Author Archives: tom.abell

REINVENTING MARVIN – CASTING THE FILM

How did you get the idea of offering her (Isabelle Huppert) the part of playing herself?

I thought it was interesting for Marvin to meet a woman from the theater, and Isabelle was an obvious choice from the earliest writing stage. It seemed self-evident. I didn’t know if she would say yes, but I couldn’t see anyone else in the role, which is small but very important – she literally reverses Marvin’s destiny. I think she was very touched by the film.

Tell us about Finnegan Oldfield and Jules Porier, the two actors who play Marvin.

I discovered Finnegan in “Bang Gang” by Eva Husson and “Les Cowboys” by Thomas Bidegain. I had him do several screen tests – with Gregory Gadebois especially – and didn’t hesitate long. Finnegan is an exceptional person. His story is exceptional, and his beauty is, too. I liked his indecisive relationship to femininity and virility, and the way he walks, almost like he’s levitating.

And I was completely love-struck by Jules Porier. I started looking for him way ahead of time. The role was complex, and the actor playing him had to be able to express a lot of emotions as well as a certain vulnerability – all with very little dialogue. He also had to have a certain physical resemblance to Finnegan. Jules was already in improvisation classes and responded on his own to the ad we posted on the internet. He really wanted to get into film work.

How did you prepare for the film with the two Marvins?

First by trying to build up their physical resemblance in the most subtle way possible: I dyed their hair red, I worked on their flesh tones and freckles, and I filmed them together a long time. Making the resemblance work was of the utmost necessity – the viewer shouldn’t have the slightest doubt about their identity.

Next, I asked Finnegan to prepare physically, with dance and gymnastic classes, to perfect the body awareness he already had naturally. He and I worked a lot on his character,

especially the scenes where he is alone in his student housing and the ones where he is on stage at the Bouffes du Nord. He needed direction – it reassured him.

One month before shooting began Jules, Grégory Gadebois, Catherine Salée and I left to do rehearsals in the Bijou family home. For four weeks, we tested the dialogue, worked out the violent scenes and did a lot of real searching. I had already used that method making “The Innocents” and I’ve become attached to it. It allows you to create connections between the actors, get right into the subject matter and explore possibilities without the obligation of producing results. It gives you freedom.

There are a lot of characters in the film.

And a lot of actors with important roles. “Marvin” probably has the most out of any film I’ve made.

You had already worked with Vincent Macaigne on “The Innocents,” but it’s your first time directing Grégory Gadebois, Catherine Salée and Catherine Mouchet.

More and more, I like mixing together well-known and lesser-known actors. I liked Grégory Gadebois so much that we are going to be on another film together very soon. And I love the friendliness Catherine Salée projects. Even though she doesn’t understand her son at all, I wanted the audience to feel empathy for Marvin’s mother.

As for Catherine Clément’s character, she couldn’t be a run-of-the-mill principal. She’s not your Mrs. Everywoman. I envisioned a few different actresses for the role, but when I met Catherine Mouchet, I couldn’t resist. She has a fire in her eye, the same one she had in Alain Cavalier’s “Thérèse.” With the poetry, uniqueness, and above all, mystery that she brings to the role, as small as it may be, she succeeds in making a powerful impact. She is a rare actress.

There are also many non-professional actors in “Marvin” – a lot of children.

Including the young girl who does a scene with Marvin, and who is really great. I was very attached to having them interact like that with the other actors. When I chose them and learned about their lives, they brought me even closer to my subject.

You filmed in the Vosges Mountains. Why that particular region?

I didn’t want to go to Northern France, where most films that touch upon social hardship are shot. I was somewhat familiar with Belfort, from making “Dry Cleaning.” Epinal wasn’t far from there. I like the landscapes in that region, their kind of raw beauty. It adds something to the film.

Tell us how it was shooting the film.

For reasons linked to Isabelle’s schedule, I began with the scene at the Bouffes du Nord. The next day, I was in the Vosges Mountains with the kids who bully Marvin in middle school. In two days, I had gone from one extreme to the other: the stylized version and the brutality of action. That immediately gave me the film’s keynote – the right chord to strike.

It was your first time working with Yves Angelo.

I didn’t want naturalistic cinematography. On the contrary, I wanted the image to be very subtly stylized. It was fairly complicated to define. Like me, Yves likes to explore and try different things.

Did you give him any references?

I told him about the trilogy in black and white by Bill Douglas [“My Childhood,” “My Ain Folk,” and “My Way Home” — Ed.], which takes place in a community of Scottish miners and has an extremely pure vision of childhood. I saw a truth in it which inspired us enormously. We had to avoid the traps of satire and pessimism.

Yves is an extremely cultured individual. You can talk with him forever about meaning. We opted for a 1.6 crop factor, a format no longer in use, to make the framing tighter and bring in more characters. We did quite subtle work on the color and the grain, which differs depending upon whether we are in Marvin’s past or present. We also chose to use older lenses, which are more “vulnerable” than the ones currently used.

We are with the character all the time.

We stick with him at every age. The story is really told from his point of view. Even when he is not on screen, we need to feel that he is both the subject and, in a certain sense, the author of the film we are watching. That requires special filming methods, such as shooting

hand-held, but done with finesse so that it fuses with the character, the framing always slightly offset. You don’t see that it’s slightly off – the viewer has to feel it in his bones.

There is a lot of invention in the film. Those projections on Marvin’s bedroom wall when he is writing, for example.

Yves and I were looking for a way to represent the imaginary, and the act of creation, without necessarily using the text. We imagined projecting images of Marvin’s childhood on the wall of his small room – images from different generations, which we feel like we are seeing a bit backwards – by filming them live, as if he were physically in contact with his childhood. The result borders on special effects but blends well with the structure of the film, which is constantly playing with poetic allegory. It was a very exciting experiment for us to try out.

With such a sophisticated structure, were there any particular issues in the edit?

I had carried the film’s structure around inside me during the writing and the filming. I would have been devastated if we had needed to re-edit everything according to a classic dramatic structure at that point. But except for a few adjustments, we remained very faithful to the original plan.

From pop music to opera, there is a lot of music in the film, but none of it is original.

The music had to give the film energy, rhythm and movement. I wanted it to be modern and varied, and correspond to Marvin’s generation. It works like a sugar rush: we should never at any time feel like Marvin is going to get bogged down.

“Marvin” is truly an ode to art and culture.

That is what guided me throughout the film, from the choice of subject to its final form.

1985 – What a Year

 

Before we dive into Yen Tan’s “delicate drama” (The Evening Standard ★★★★) let’s recap on what defined the year of 1985…

  • The Goonies, The Breakfast Club and Back To The Future soared onto our screens and into our hearts.
  • Madonna launches her first road show The Virgin Tour after scoring No.1 hits with “Like a Virgin” and “Crazy For You”.
  • The iconic Live Aid concert which raised over £50m for relief of Ethiopian famine; whilst showing off Freddie Mercury and Queen in their prime (we’ve all seen the recent Bohemian Rhapsody!)
  • Legendary basketball player Michael Jordan was named NBA’s “Rookie of the Year”.
  • Comic Relief was launched live from BBC One on Christmas Day.
  • The Titanic was discovered 370 miles from Newfoundland.
  • The year where wearing swatch watches and playing on Super Mario Bros. was all the rage.

It’s clear that 1985 is a year to remember for these many reasons. But also for the thousands of those lost to the AIDS virus. Yen Tan’s 1985 pays a touching tribute to those affected by the virus and their surrounding families and friends.

A bravura ensemble performance from a stellar cast that includes CORY MICHAEL SMITH (Gotham, First Man), JAMIE CHUNG (The Gifted), Golden Globe Winner MICHAEL CHIKLIS (Fantastic Four, Gotham) and Oscar Nominee VIRGINIA MADSEN (Sideways)

Texas, Christmas 1985 Adrian (Cory Michael Smith  Gotham) is home for the first time in three years. Between his mother s fawning affections, his father s begrudging, stilted conversation and his younger brother s cold shoulder, Adrian is all too aware of the impact his absence has had on them.

A mutual love of Madonna’s music helps the brothers to reconnect. Their relationship starts to rebuild through the joy of “ungodly” music and movies as Adrian secretly helps him rebuild his cassette tape collection recently destroyed by the local pastor.

With his life in New York City falling apart, Adrian is determined to make this home visit count – 1985 will be a Christmas to remember

 

Campbell X and THE WATERMELON WOMAN


THE WATERMELON WOMAN is a self-coined – Dunyementary – a fusion of fiction and documentary style filmmaking. In THE WATERMELON WOMAN, Cheryl Dunye uses  investigative documentary shooting on video intercut with a formal fiction comedy drama structure shot on film. Inserted within the narrative is archive footage constructed by Dunye.

THE WATERMELON WOMAN is edutainment. We laugh while being educated about the erasure of Black women in cinematic history in general, and also the invisibility of Black lesbian actresses in Hollywood history. As we watch the film we begin to question what is real and what is fiction? THE WATERMELON WOMAN is the Black actress Fae Richards who had disappeared, undocumented in the mist of time.

The title “THE WATERMELON WOMAN” is a play on the association between racist depictions of Black people eating watermelons, equivalent to the often racist caricatured images of Black women as the Mammy/Maid characters in Hollywood. The title is also an homage to Melvin Van Peebles’ 1970 film WATERMELON MAN. Melvin Van Peebles is credited with starting the Blaxploitation era of cinema which heralded a new vision of modern African American cinema.

As THE WATERMELON WOMAN begins we see video footage of a white Jewish wedding with Black guests. As Cheryl, who is a wedding videographer sets up the frame, a white male photographer comes and tells the contributors to move around to suit his frame while she is shooting. She is of course outraged and tells him to wait his turn. This first scene sets the tone for the ways in which Black women’s stories are denied, overwritten or erased in Hollywood.

Cheryl in the film decides to search for the real Fae Richards. As she does so she interviews various gatekeepers of culture, who are unapologetic in their ignorance about Fae RichardsLee Edwards, the Black gay man, played by Brian Freeman (Pomo Afro Homos – 1990–1995) is uninterested in anything to do with history of women in cinema, the CLIT archivist played by Sarah Schulman hoards Black womens’ archival assets and denies Cheryl access to the material, the cultural critic Camille Paglia played by herself, who while explaining the impact of the Mammy role, denies there is a racist element to them, and even posits the roles as empowering because she insists on viewing them through her own Italian American experience.

The complicity of white women in power structures is further reinforced when we learn that Fae Richards was in a lesbian relationship with a white film director Martha Paige who cast her in the Mammy roles.  Martha Paige did nothing to write and direct roles for Fae that were outside of the Mammy/Maid roles. She instead built her reputation as a film director off plantation type dramas. In fact it is often Martha Paige who is referenced in the history books and not Fae Richards. Martha Paige is played by Alex Juhasz, one of the producers of THE WATERMELON WOMANCheryl’s relationship with Diana played by Guinevere Turner (Go Fish, L Word, American Psycho, Notorious Bettie Page, Charlie Says)  falls apart when Cheryl has the dawning realisation about her liberal white racist values and her attempted appropriation of Cheryl’s project.

At the same time Cheryl interviews older Black lesbians who let her know how much they revered Fae Richards, even as Hollywood rejected her, and dumped her when she got older. She uncovers Fae Richards rich and joyous life as a Black lesbian who was survived by June, her lover of 20 years. June is played by the iconic poet and essayist – Cheryl Clarke.

THE WATERMELON WOMAN is a genius film which subverts dominant cinema with a Black lesbian feminist aesthetic through centring dark-skinned Black women as characters and actors. And by placing Black masculine of centre women of various ages as objects of desire and love interests.   Cheryl Dunye casts herself, a black lesbian woman, as the central character, a Black lesbian filmmaker called Cheryl in order to obtain authenticity in the role, as well as intrinsically preventing any erasure of Black lesbian desire or bodies.

THE WATERMELON WOMAN is a love letter to cinema – African American cinema in Philadelphia in particular, we learn about those film companies that existed in the 1930s and see the cinemas where African Americans watched the silver screen. THE WATERMELON WOMAN while exploring the invisibility of Black lesbian women in cinema, also creates its own queer archive. There are references to other queer works of art, the documentary elements allow for the use of actual LGBT people, Dunye uses music of Black lesbians like Toshi Reagon and if you check the credits you will see interns like Kimberly Peirce (Boys Don’t Cry, The L Word, Carrie ).

THE WATERMELON WOMAN tells us to speak to our queer elders and hear their stories in order to document histories/herstories/theirstories so we so we know they were there.

Campbell X

Being Taboo in Tehran with director Ali Soozandeh


We go behind the scenes of  the incredible TEHRAN TABOO with writer / director with Ali Soozandeh

What is the origin of the project? Is it adapted from any existing material?

TEHRAN TABOO is an original screenplay, not based on a novel. The idea came to me a few years ago when I overheard a conversation between two young Iranian men in the subway who were talking about their experiences with girls. They mentioned a prostitute who brought her child along on the job. This made me think about themes on sexuality in Iran. I began researching social media and I explored my own memories of dealing with such issues when I was in my teens and twenties, and the story developed from there.

Was it always your intention to make an animation film?

The initial goal was not about making a rotoscoping animation film, but animation is my main professional background. I have also worked as a camera operator, photographer, painter, storyboard and VFX artist. The most important thing for me was to make the story work. For this project, the problem with shooting a live-action film was the location. Tehran was not an option, for obvious reasons. I watched some films which used Morocco or Jordan in place of Iran but this was not very convincing. After many discussions and tests, we concluded that the rotoscoping technique would be the best way to go. I chose that technique because it allows us to feel the characters more realistically despite the animation.

Tell us about your relationship to Iran.

I was born in Iran and lived there until I was 25. I’m the only one in my family who now lives abroad. I was nine years old when the Islamic revolution came. I felt the impact when boys and girls were suddenly separated in school. This was the rest of many shattering experiences. At 25, I emigrated and I have been living in Germany since 1995. Of course I still love Iran and my people, who are among the best in the world when it comes to enduring hardships. Research and rejection within our society for the film has given me a very different image of Iran. I think I understand better the circumstances, how complex the society is and why there is no simple answer. My relationship to Iran is much closer since making the film.

Tell us about the taboos referred to in the movie’s title.

By making this film, I wanted to break the silence that is common practice in Iran. I would say breaking taboos is a way to protest against the restrictions. In Iran, legal prohibitions and moral restrictions are the forces that shape everyday life. When sexuality is regimented strongly, people can become very industrious at working around the many taboos. Iranians are a creative people and learn quickly how to handle the prohibitions and work around the restrictions. We find places free from rules. To compensate for forced public fronts, private life can go out of bounds in regards to sex, alcohol, drugs. The lack of freedom can push people into living with double standards. TEHRAN TABOO focuses on these double standards used to circumvent sexuality in Iran. This creates many social complications, which occasionally manifest themselves in absurd situations, often comic.

Explain the atmosphere of secrecy and paranoia that is often experienced in the film.

In the middle class district where TEHRAN TABOO is set, restrictions come from people’s mindsets as much as the actual laws. Family honour is much more important in Iran than in Europe. Iran has a society where social contacts are very important and play a big role in achieving success. An individual and his or her whole family can lose their honour for an extramarital relationship, of which the slightest is forbidden by law. But being sent to prison and paying the fine are not nearly as detrimental as the police releasing such information to the public. This means all your relatives, all your neighbours find out about your crime. For you and your family, it means complete loss of honour.

The women are crucial to the storyline in your film, what is the that women play in Iranian society.

The images Westerners have about Iran are always very distorted and full of clichés. They are characterized by stereotypes ranging from the exoticism of «1001 Nights» to the nuclear dispute to the fierce Islamic regime. But the reality seen on Tehran streets is much more diverse. Women in Iran are often more educated than men and have a more visible role in daily life than in many other Islamic countries, such as Saudi Arabia. But there is no one modern Iranian woman. There are many types, from religious fundamentalists to Western feminists. Of course, the latter have no means to express themselves in public. I was especially interested in the role that women play and must play in Iranian society’s game of virtues. They are the ones who suffer most. At the same time, women are expected to impose the rules and taboos that restrict their liberty onto the next generation.

Wat about your characters’ spirit and the tone they give to the film.

I believe people and their dreams are similar everywhere in the world. Only the circumstances are different. Any audience anywhere could probably identify with these characters. They all suffer in one way or another from the taboos of sexual relationships and the restrictions of Iranian society. They are victims, but also offenders at the same time. No one in the film is absolutely good or bad. A character can seem very offensive by his actions, but we can better understand his behaviour when we discover the backstory.

The film adopts in large parts the perspective of a small boy. Not wanting to make an overly dark film, I preferred to adopt the optimistic, hopeful and colourful perspective that children usually have on life. This and careful storyboarding enhance the tone and look of a graphic novel or comic book given by the rotoscoping technique.

What was the technical process involved in the making of your film.

Upon finishing the storyboards and casting, we started shooting in green screen with the actors. During this stage, the work is with a normal film crew and camera in studio. The first step in the animation stage is pre-visualisation. We couldn’t go to the edit stage with only green screen footage. We needed to create placeholders for backgrounds. After the editing was done, we started the animation process. We created the final backgrounds (which are a combination of 3D-elements and drawn images) and the drawn characters separately. Finally, we combined all of the elements in the compositing stage, combining all the elements to provide the final image. It took 13 months just to shoot and complete the animation process, and more than 40 artists were involved.

Will you continue in the field of animation or do you see yourself working on live-action films?

I feel safe in the animation world, but I can imagine working on live-action films too. It depends strongly on the story. If live-action would be the better way to tell a story, I would not necessarily make an animated film.

Scorsese, Pio and making THE CIAMBRA


In our interview writer/director Jonas Carpignano talks about working with Scorsese, his young lead Pio Amato and the perils of shooting in The Ciambra.

A Ciambra clearly delineates the various tribes in Rosarno – the Italians, Romani and Africans – and shows how only Pio can move freely between them, which makes Pio’s relationship with Ayiva one of the hopeful elements in the film.

I fundamentally believe that besides the coercive political, economic and national structures, exposure to “foreign elements,” whether they be people, food, or music is the only way to dissolve the artificial boundaries between us. To me, Pio can move freely through the complex layers of his world because none of them are truly foreign to him. He has grown up in a Calabria that has now Africans, Bulgarians, Romanians, and so on. For him they are part of the social fabric of his world. That was not the case for the previous generation.

The same is true for Marta in Mediterranea. She doesn’t see Ayiva as an invader. For her, Ayiva is a worker like so many others. She didn’t know what Calabria was like before the arrival of the Africans. Both Pio and Marta see Ayiva as Ayiva. And while both films are realistic about the limits of this relationship, I think they both depict a path forward towards a more “integrated” Calabria.

Pio’s grandfather represents a way of life that has disappeared. There is a wonderful moment in the film in which Pio has a vision of his grandfather, what was the inspiration for this? 

History has a certain weight. We like to contextualize ourselves and to feel that we are part of something larger than ourselves, that we have roots and that we are the continuation of something that has come before us. This is true, to varying degrees, for all of us, but it is especially relevant in the Ciambra. Yet, if you really think about it, our connection with the past is more abstract that we would like to think.  I mean, we cannot physically occupy the past, we can never experience it for ourselves. The past is something that is constantly reimagined, often to justify who we are or who we would like to be.

The collective memory of a common past is part of what makes the Ciambra such an insular community, and I felt that it was important to show Pio’s connection with his past to better articulate his dilemma. I also wanted to convey this idea that his connection with the past wasn’t as concrete as his connection to his immediate surroundings. So, when confronted with the problem of how to cinematically render this, I tried to conjugate the abstraction of an imagined past with the realism of the film. The barley perceptible slow motion and the magical feeling of those scenes are an obvious departure from the rest of the film, but at the same time they are shot within the “rules” of the visual language we established for the whole film.


How did producer Martin Scorsese get involved? 

RT Features and Sikelia have created a fund to support first and second films. The producers at RT saw Mediterranea, they liked it, and they brought it to Martin and his producing partner Emma Tillinger Koskoff, who were immediately supportive and enthusiastic about the project.

The nature of making films in Gioia Tauro is such that everything outside feels very, very abstract compared to what is happening on the ground. I spent the last year knowing that Martin Scorsese was a producer of the film but it didn’t really sink in until we got to the editing process. I was lucky to have his notes on several versions of the cut, and his thoughts surely made an impact on the film. On a larger level, not only his work is massively influential, but his approach to and respect for the medium is what I particularly value.

How do you approach collaboration with crew? Do you prefer to work with the same crew from project to project? 

Yes. We’ve been making films in Gioia Tauro since 2011 and many of the people who were around at the beginning are still a major part of our filmmaking team. For example, my production designer Ascanio Viarigi has been part of the team from the very first short; one of the producers, Jon Coplon, had his first-ever filmmaking experience with A Chjana. My DP Tim Curtain was the operator of A Chjana and Mediterranea. It goes on and on. We are a tight knit crew for sure, and we’ve succeeded in creating a system for making films in a place where there was previously no film production. We all speak the same language now, and the basic grammar of our cinematic language is pretty well established.

Of course, people sometimes have scheduling conflicts and not everyone can be around for every film, but we always get people who have worked with someone that was part of the original crew. It’s great because the family keeps growing, but the vibe stays the same. Then there are also the people who see how we make films and steer clear of our unorthodox approach. It’s sort of a natural selection in that way.

What was the process for creating the look of the film?  What were some of the challenges in filming where you did?

While the building blocks were similar to the process for Mediterrana (and the shorts), the overall picture was very different and that came from the different perspective that the film inhabits. I always believe the film itself should feel like the main character. In that vein, Mediterranea feels very fragmented and closed in. The visual grammar is designed to mirror Ayiva’s perspective: he only has a fractured understanding of his surroundings and therefore the film only presents a fractured portrait of the place. In A Chjana, Pio’s grasp of his surroundings is more assured and, even though we used the same type of camera moves and editing style, the perspective is much larger, more comprehensive.

Shooting in the Ciambra was the challenge. It’s impossible to fully articulate what the Ciambra is like, but from the film I think you get an idea. It is a wild and unruly place where anything that can happen will happen, often ten or fifteen times over.  Luckily we knew this before going in, so we gave ourself time. We ended up shooting for 91 days.

I think if I had to boil it down, the hardest parts of making the film were waking Pio up in the morning, and directing the scenes that have tons of kids. I know they look all cute on screen, but when they don’t feel like working, man… I’ve got some outtakes and behind the scenes stuff that wouldn’t be out of place in Burden of Dreams.

Can you talk about the music? As always the score and the pop songs are on.

I love pop music. I got this question a lot while I was on the road with Mediterranea, and I’ll say now what I said then: pop music is the common denominator. No matter what language you speak, no matter where you are from, when the beat drops on a song that everyone knows, everyone is suddenly on the same wavelength. Everyone is moving to the same rhythm and I find that to be a major icebreaker when venturing into less familiar territories.

The fact that Pio and I dig a lot of the same music explains a great deal about our relationship. We were born and we grew up in very different circumstances, yet when we are listening to music Pio and I understand each other way better than he and someone born and raised in the same city would. Even though that someone speaks the same dialect, knows the same doctors, and had the same teachers – but they don’t share the same musical taste. So I find it important to the make the viewer listen to what the characters listen to. It’s a way in, a way to bring the audience closer to the people on the screen.

Writer Director Jonas Carpignano

REINVENTING MARVIN – The Origins

 

Though “Marvin” was inspired by “The End of Eddy” by Edouard Louis, your Marvin is not an adaptation of that book. Tell us how the film was born.

I felt a very strong connection to the hero of the book by Edouard Louis, and I almost immediately felt like I wanted to make his story my own. I wanted to invent a new destiny for him. Explore the way he had to reconstruct himself after such a difficult separation from that family, and that subculture of France, socially and culturally disinherited. Dream up the crucial influences of his teenage years. In short, adapt it so liberally that “Marvin” could no longer be considered an adaptation, though the book was powerful.

How do you explain the connection that you feel with this character?

I like the idea that powerful people can escape what they are born into, that nothing is ever predestined or doomed, and that it’s possible to transform obstacles into strengths. That is what has always guided me. How do we manage to do that? How do we succeed in transcending difficulties? Those are questions that I, as a completely self-made person, can identify with. Marvin’s journey fascinated me as much as Coco Chanel’s. She, too, was able to invent herself, though she came from an extremely disadvantaged background.

Marvin also has to deal with being different. Having nothing in common with his family or classmates, he is totally alone.

Yes. You’d think he came from another planet. He has the face of an angel, and it’s as if his beauty stimulates the cruelty of others. He is an object of sadistic treatment to his classmates and an object of shame to his family. But that grace, that expression of femininity he carries within him – which is the cause of all that violence – is precisely what will feed his creativity and allow him to find his own path.

Your characterization of the family is never insulting; it even lends them certain humanity.

I felt it was important not to disparage those characters and pin them down like butterfly specimens. It’s their subculture that gave them those often terrifying phrases they say. They do it almost despite themselves; they think from where they stand, with their close-minded languaging. My co-author Pierre Trividic and I didn’t want to judge them.

Despite his ideas, the father is almost touching.

He says “faggots are awful… it’s a disease.” He is obsessed with the norm, but you can tell he is not mean. He has never hit his children, which is already progress by comparison to the previous generation. He is never outright violent. He even makes an effort when he takes Marvin to the train station and gives him money to buy Coca-Cola. He tries to be interested, and that makes him moving because we know full well that he doesn’t care about theater. That’s somewhere else, in another world.

You make him, as well as the character of Marvin’s mother, truly poetic.

There is something theatrical about the father. He makes a show of who he is. He’s not a hick, as his daughter points out. Strangely enough, there is love in that family. It’s lively and complex. Marvin can feed off of that material.

Which feeds them in return?

Yes. In the end, the father manages to say the word “gay” and talk about homosexual marriage. He has opened a door.

The older brother ends up being the only one in the family who is unreachable.

That is also a possible truth of that subculture: the incredible violence that suddenly breaks out from nothing, from the fact that their little brother was hiding in the church to eat candy. Combined with alcohol and his vision of Marvin (a representation of homosexuality), it triggers in Gerald an irrepressible urge to bash. It’s a horrible scene. Dramatically, it was important for the parents to step in. But I wouldn’t say that Gerald is “unreachable.” None of their destinies are set in stone.

You have never delved into that community.

Not being from it myself, I did question my own legitimacy. But I brushed that away pretty quickly. You don’t have to be in it to talk about it. What is essential is to feel things. And I knew them, in a certain way, through one of my grandmothers, who ran a small business under very tough living conditions and who was culturally very close to the Bijou family –

anti-homo, anti-black, anti-everything. As a kid, that intellectual poverty struck me deeply. But she was also a generous woman with amazing humanity. I loved that grandma and got inspiration from her, of course. Just as I got inspiration from the families I met in the area around Epinal – people who are forgotten, living on the edge in incredible poverty and often very close to the Front National. I really settled into the region and stay put. That was the best way to understand it from the inside. Though I’m not obsessed by the documentary aspect, what I showed had to ring true.

Being DISCREET with director Travis Mathews


We caught up with director Travis Mathews to talk about the origins of DISCREET his chilling new thriller that is being distributed by Peccadillo.

What was the genesis of this project?

Late in the summer of 2015, I had just stepped away from a much-delayed project and needed to do something that felt urgent and unafraid.

I dropped into my surroundings and listened to what was going on around me. At the time, I was driving around central Texas in a borrowed van that was a radio/cassette situation, so I indulged in
talk radio. Having grown up in rural Ohio, I was familiar with the A.M. dial, but what I heard sounded noticeably different, like the drumbeat to war. There was an unhinged desperation in these
voices and the rumbling sounds of the “alt-right”.

If these conservative voices were to be believed, some justifiable violence against “outsiders” seemed imminent. White, rural America was prepared to make their country great again!

The zeitgeist was so thick with unease, I wanted to write something that embodied this kind of “nation on the edge” anxiety. I set out to write a story that explored the ways in which populist insecurities about losing power intersected with, and informed, individual views on masculinity and sexuality. Alex, the hero in the film, is a distillation of this caustic soup. He’s unwell, to put it mildly.

As Alex’s mental state came into focus, every creative and editorial choice was made to service his cinematic representation. For me, this is one of the most exciting parts of the process. As a character comes into view, especially one as complicated as Alex, there’s a real joy in discovering what visual or sound expressions would most represent him. It’s also a process that brings real cohesion to the filmmaking team because we start to share ownership of this vision.

How does this film comment on contemporary gay male sexuality?

In Texas towns, both big and small, I turned on gay hookup apps like Grindr and Hornet to see how 2015 was translating among locals. I expected to find closeted guys, but I wasn’t prepared for the degree of racism, internalized homophobia, and the general fear of being seen, that was rampant. What fascinated me most were the profiles labeled discreet, and the men hiding behind black boxes in lieu of faces or even anonymous torsos. Shame was feeding the darkness, amplifying mythologized ideas of what a real man should be. It was the same wholesome mythology being propagated by rural -assumed straight- white conservatives.

Many of these guys on the apps are no different than the men on conservative radio. They’re both terrified of being outed as a lesser version of this kind of a Marlboro man ideal. It’s fear of being emasculated. And as demographics shift, turning America more brown, more tolerant, more fluid and more urban, their entire way of life is felt as under attack. This is how I understand the right’s
perverse and draconian actions and also the black boxes men hide behind.

This film delves deeply into one man’s brutal psyche – what was your cinematic process to create and visualise his internal world?

I think in all my work I’ve put a premium on men who express vulnerabilities very candidly. I’ve
explored this with sex and intimacy, but also in terms of loneliness and isolation. In Discreet, these same themes are explored with Alex, while I’ve also tried to make him an amplified reflection of the zeitgeist. As we all know, it’s pretty damn dark out there. But to be honest, Alex initially entered my head much more innocently. I was at Barton Springs in Austin with one of my producers, just riffing off of each other in the water. It was a little like a Richard Linklater moment, which I think is hilarious, thinking back. Anyway, my producer tells me about this Texas guy who films construction sites, dump truck videos more specifically, and has millions of views. It’s just one camera set up, one shot, for hours. He has all sorts of videos that take distinct sounds and/or images and puts them on a multi-hour loop. An early favorite of mine is a looping 8-hour video of bacon frying. Something really clicked with that one, so I started imagining the kind of person who would think to film this. That’s where my exploration of Alex started, before I knew anything else about him. He could have had a quirky romantic comedy in front of him, but it didn’t turn out that way.

His videos were my first entry point, and where I let my mind wander. When it clicked that his videos were actually a strange attempt to find calm, control, and some sort of psychic peace, it started to make sense with the zeitgeist and his character started to emerge. All around us, there’s the sense that something bad is coming, it feels like dread, like the setup to a dystopian thriller or a horror movie. And it’s only gotten worse since I wrote the early drafts of Discreet. This kind of madness in the air had a real impact on the evolution and the final outcome of the film. Initially, the story was more overtly political, more linear and more violent. But as months passed between the summer of 2015 up to the weeks following the US presidential election, the story of Alex started to take on a more surreal and restrained kind of internal horror. He – like most of us – was trying to survive this onslaught of crazy the best he knew how.

Jonny Mars’ central performance as Alex anchors the film – what was your collaborative process like?

Jonny and I were introduced by the filmmaker, and mutual friend, Kat Kandler. She and Jonny had worked together on Kat’s great Hellion short, where Jonny plays an aging heavy-metal God trying to do right in the world. That was my introduction to Jonny Mars. And when I started to share the bigger ideas of who I thought Alex was, and could be, almost everyone suggested that I connect with him. We were in different cities at the time, so before meeting, we spent a lot of long phone calls just deep diving into politics. Jonny’s really smart, and fully committed to his strong moral compass. He’s also up to do virtually anything on film, if it’s a smart choice that’s right for the character. This was reassuring because I knew from the start that “Alex” would be in some fucked up situations and head spaces.

Jonny jumped into the pool and we became fast friends. We also shared the same sense of urgency about making a film that would speak to this moment. It quickly made sense to bring Jonny even closer, and to have his involvement as a producer. Jonny, myself, and Don Swaynos – our tireless lead producer – were at the center of constructing Alex all the way through, and despite the heavy nature of the film, we tempered it with a lot of playfulness. Both Don and Jonny wore a lot of hats. Jonny, in particular, was somehow able to deliver these gutting performances then switch on a dime with production notes for something unrelated, and happening on another day. I also think that because we were independent, we had the creative freedom to go bold, which is what was required for this story to work. It’s that kind of creative freedom that allows a cohesive team to purr.

What does your film say about technology as something that is alienating society?

There’s a lot of isolation and long-distance attempts at intimacy via strange uses of technology in the Discreet world. It’s almost like traditional coping methods and ideas of intimacy have been proven to be ineffective and Alex is trying out new ones with imperfect results. The connections in Discreet seem transactional, based on primal needs for survival. It’s as if simple desire has become
so scarce that it’s maybe not to be trusted. And you see how that tug of war over desire plays out in Alex’s head. He’s tortured by it and distrustful of it.

As a country, I see us increasingly moving in this protectionist direction, which drives personal isolation and nativist tendencies. There’s the sense that things aren’t good out there, so close the borders, close your doors and just sit with your phones. What’s real, who can you trust? A lot of rational minds feel like we’ve entered a new epoch, and it has the smell of 1984 or Brave New World. There’s so much free-floating anxiety in America right now, that many people’s impulse is to cave inward and to isolate. Alex is a manifestation of all this.

What are your cinematic / aesthetic influences for this film?

Early on we were quite attuned to the Travis Bickle Taxi Driver nature of Alex. I also took deep dives into psychological thrillers like Polanski’s apartment trilogy, and horror, e.g., The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. While I was writing, I binge-watched How to Make a Murderer. Many of my initial dream locations came from freeze frames in that series. The rural community it depicts has a perverse loyalty to maintaining power at any cost, even at the risk of destroying lives. It’s a theme echoed in Discreet.

Unrelated to movies, I was obsessed with the freeways in Texas. Beyond being synonymous with America, the Texas freeways (the interchanges especially) always seemed unnecessarily jumbo-sized. As someone who lives in San Francisco and hasn’t owned a car in almost 20 years, I’m sure it was amplified for me, but it all seemed a little ridiculous. Because Alex is a drifter who lives out of his van, always on the road, it made sense to pay more attention to the freeways in the film’s world. Here are these man-made monsters, an expression of Texas muscularity, that Alex can’t get away from. In almost every location in the film, the freeways are always looming or threatening to strangle.

DISCREET can be seen as both a timely and timeless statement not only one man’s violent internal struggle, but an allegory on social strife in America and even the world. What are your thoughts on this viewing of your film?

By now, we all know that there are populist movements happening around the world, especially in Europe. Right wing nationalists are securing power with the rabid support of voters who feel pushed out by globalization. And this is so often done by appealing to people’s base desire for scapegoats, simple, answers, and fairytales about reverting back to a “more pure” time. From Texas to France, these are mythologies about national muscularity, brute masculinity that doesn’t
answer to anyone.

So, despite the film’s focused critique of America, with few changes Alex could be a Frenchman or an Englishman struggling with the same issues. These “patriarchy on the run” mythologies are not the exclusive domain of America.

Writer Director Travis Mathews

MARIO a revealing look at homosexuality in The Beautiful Game.

No matter who I talk to, hardly anyone understands why it should be a problem to be an openly gay professional football player in 2018. As early as 2013, many German politicians as well as high-ranking club functionaries and representatives of professional associations took a stand and signed the “Berlin Declaration” – a position paper against homophobia in sport. We know that there are gay football players, and club-internally they receive professional guidance and management, but towards the outside, the silence is maintained.

Coming out in professional football is still a taboo. The blame for this is passed back and forth. Some say reactionary fan groups are the problem. Others point to the sponsors, who could bail out. Or individual players from chauvinistic cultures who would not be able to deal with the situation. Corny Littmann, former President of the St. Pauli football club in Hamburg, Germany, and gay himself, gave an interview on the topic in 2012. Asked why not a single player had come out as gay yet, he answered that this would be stupid. “Only a fool would do that.” Littmann regards the world of football as a professional field lacking the social competencies to deal with a coming-out.

Homophobic clichés and small-mindedness are still widespread, according to him. On average, a football player can pursue his career for 16 years and changes clubs every two to three years. He is a commodity, bought and sold again as lucratively as possible. An openly gay player would, however, encounter problems when trying to find a new club. He would be seen as “difficult”, even if his athletic performance were high. Coming out would therefore destroy his market value – and with it his entire career. So is everything, as so often in our society, a question of money?

In 2018 the FIFA World Cup will be carried out in Russia, a country that discriminates against and ostracises homosexuals. 2022 will see the World Cup in Qatar, a country that punishes homosexuality with five years’ imprisonment or 90 whiplashes. As we know, football is big business, and FIFA will make sure that nothing comes in the way of that – least of all the gay question. And we will follow both cups with excitement, and we will pay to see the games. In the end, the current status quo regarding homosexuality in professional football is a contract we have all entered into. But the weight of self-denial is a weight that the gay players carry alone.

When screenwriter Thomas Hess approached me in 2010 with his idea to make a feature film on the topic of gay love in professional football, my first question was: Hasn’t that film already been made? The topic was already present in the media, but our research showed that, apart from numerous news features, there was only a comedy dating from 2004.

The great football love story, however, had not yet been made for cinema. This is why I committed to the project. Apart from the topical relevancy, I felt very much like making another love story twenty years after “F.est un salaud”. Since classical literature, love stories that are framed by any kind of forbidden love have moved us the most. I saw the opportunity to tell a truly moving story in the given social context of a modern forbidden love. It was important to me to illustrate this context as realisticallyand contemporarily as possible. The football club BSC YB from Berne, Switzerland, generously supported me during the research and script development phases. During shooting BSC YB and the St. Pauli football club provided us with infrastructure, materials, and their names, for which I am very grateful.

Marcel Gisler

Director and co-writer of MARIO – Marcel Gisler

Meet the Amatos – with THE CIAMBRA Director Jonas Carpignano

In the first part of a two part interview, writer / director Jonas Carpignano talks with us about about casting the Amato family in his film THE CIAMBRA.

Jonas Carpignano

Writer-Director Jonas Carpignano

How did you first encounter the Amato family? 

The first time I met the Amato family was in 2011 after the Fiat Panda filled with my crew’s film equipment was stolen. We were in Gioia Tauro (Calabria) shooting A Chjana (the short film which would later become Mediterranea). In Gioia Tauro, when a car disappears, the first thing you do is “go to the gypsies.”

That’s when I saw the Ciambra for the first time. I immediately fell in love with the energy of the place. Whenever I tell this story, Pio says that he remembers seeing me, but at the time I didn’t notice him – there was too much to take in. We had to wait three days to get the car back because Pio’s grandfather (the Nonno Emilian character is based on him) had just died and they wouldn’t negotiate the ransom for the car until after the funeral. Clearly that funeral procession made a big impression on me because five years later I wrote it into the film. Needless to say the entire situation had an enormous impact on me and soon after I wrote the first draft of the short version of A Ciambra.

It’s hard to generalize the position of the Romani in Italian society, and I don’t  have the space here to really get into the complexities of their situation in Italy or in Europe in general. The fact is that they are not a monolithic group. There are those who have risen to the top of the organized crime pyramid like the Casamonica in Rome; or the hard working blue collar Romani who have everyday jobs and are indistinguishable from other Italians; or the nomads who live in squalid trailer camps created by local governments on the periphery of many major Italian towns; and countless other examples. What is relevant for the film is the role the Romani of the Ciambra play in Gioia Tauro and their relationship with the newly arrived African immigrants in Southern Italy. While I think that looking at this example can, hopefully, speak to a more universal condition, the goal with this film was never to shine a light on these broader sociological factors. I am interested in Pio and Ayiva and I think the film clearly articulates their relationship – specifically, its potential and its limits.

Pio Amato stole the show in Mediterranea and your short film A Ciambra (2014). Was it always your intention to go back and write a film around him and his family? 

I met people who had all kinds of opinions while I was on the road with Mediterranea, but one thing that was consistent was the complete, utter love and appreciation for Pio. He has, as my friends in New Orleans say, it. Whatever it is, Pio has enough to burn, and I realized that the second I met him.

That said, I had intended to make a feature in the Ciambra before I ever met Pio, even before we started shooting Mediterranea. Casting the short version of A Ciambra was exactly like casting the short version of A Chjana. I went into the Ciambra with a rough idea of a story.  Once I met Pio, I revised the story to take into account him and his family. Biographical elements of the Amato family ended up reshaping and altering the story in the same way that Koudous Seihon’s story shaped Mediterranea.

In both cases, after meeting the protagonist, I tried to make the films as true to their protagonists’ experiences as possible, while keeping some semblance of dramatic structure. In the case of A Ciambra (the short), I was interested in telling the tale of two brothers. In the winter of 2013 I started going to the Ciambra regularly to cast the film and the first person I was drawn to was Pio’s older brother.

At first he was completely against the idea of being in a film. He was so reluctant that one of the producers encouraged me to find someone else. However, I couldn’t see anyone else playing the role, so I kept after him for months.

A week or so later, Pio and I began becoming closer. He had shed his initial distrust for an outsider and it became clear that he and I had a special bond. It’s hard to describe what and how it happened but both of us knew, pretty quickly, that we would be important to each other. In a lot of ways his relationship with Ayiva in the film is a combination of his relationship with Koudous and with me. The first testament to that was when Pio helped me convince his brother to be in the short. It was our first success, kind of.

Kind of? 

I say “kind of” because in reality Cosimo is played by two twins, Cosimo and Damiano Amato. I was always after Damiano, but for the short film I had to use Cosimo because Damiano wasn’t having it. Finally, by the time it was time to make the feature, Damiano came around to the idea and the film is all the better for it.

Pio

You have managed to get remarkable leading performances out of non-professional actors Pio Amato (and his family). What’s your approach in working with cast?

It’s different for each cast member. My approach to working with Pio was very different from my approach with Koudous, Iolanda, Pasquale or even my father, who played the guy at the train station. If there were one consistent element in working with all of them I’d say it was the atmosphere I tried to create. I am very militant on how many people are allowed on set, who is watching, and so on. Since we are always shooting in real locations, often in people’s houses, I never want to feel like we are altering the natural rhythm of the place. I always said to the crew that we need to adapt our approach to them, instead of trying to impose a traditional filmmaking infrastructure upon them. That would have never worked. So I think that by going with the flow, we were able to create a very safe atmosphere where people didn’t feel exposed. I’m not sure I could have gotten the same performances if I brought the A Ciambra cast to shoot those scenes on a soundstage in Rome, for example.

I also spent a lot of time breaking down barriers between the cast and myself. It was not a “professional” relationship. There was a deep familiarity between us which I think is why they were willing to go places when I asked them to. I can’t remember who said it recently, but I recall hearing: “There are two styles of directing. One where you stand still and demand that the actors come to you. And one where you go where they are and try to steer them in the direction you think is best.”  I clearly fall into the second category.

Read part two of this interview here.

 

It’s All About Frankie from BEACH RATS

Director Eliza Hittman and star Harris Dickinson discuss the character of Frankie in BEACH RATS.

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Frankie doesn’t really know where he’s headed or what he wants, but he does know what kind of behavior is off-limits in the heteronormative culture he’s grown up in. The web is his only real outlet to explore his attraction to other men. As Hittman describes it, “Frankie’s testing the waters. He’s thinking of the internet as being his channel to a world that might exist a few subways stops away, one that is more adventurous and progressive.” After his father’s passing, Frankie takes the next step and begins hooking up with some of the men he meets online.

Meanwhile, Frankie’s relationship with Simone progresses in fits and starts. Simone, who is also 19, is cut from different cloth than Frankie’s regular companions, Alexie, Frankie and Nick. She has a regular job and is conscientious about her responsibilities. She perceives and empathizes with Frankie’s emotional pain and is willing to forgive his faults, up to a point. “Simone is more aspirational than the men in film; she has a sense of purpose,” says Hittman. “She might want to make it work with Frankie, but in the end she’s capable of letting it go.”

Hittman didn’t write BEACH RATS as a coming-out narrative or a story about someone coming to terms with their sexuality. “Frankie’s an inarticulate 19-year-old who is slowly coming to consciousness about who he is,” she remarks. “For me, what was at the crux of the character was that he kind of knows but doesn’t know. He’s clinging onto his indecision; His answer for everything is ‘I don’t know.’ I think that’s very typical for a guy that age who is kind of incapable of saying anything about how he’s feeling.”

In trying to navigate his competing desires, Frankie makes decisions that lead to unintended and ultimately terrible consequences. Hittman was careful to show that when violence does erupt, it is spontaneous, a long-brewing fury that has found its escape valve.

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Hittman spent approximately two years developing and writing the screenplay for BEACH RATS after receiving a fellowship from the nonprofit film foundation Cinereach (BEASTS OF THE SOUTHERN WILD, TEENAGE, SALERO), which had previously helped support the distribution of IT FELT LIKE LOVE. To the production executives at Cinereach, Hittman’s screenplay affirmed the promise shown by IT FELT LIKE LOVE and they decided to take on the project as a Cinereach original production. Says production head Andrew Goldman, “Eliza is a bold and insightful filmmaker. She has a unique ability to create a cinematic world wrought with complexities and nuances that few storytellers can capture on film. BEACH RATS is a big leap forward for her and we’re so thrilled to be part of her continued growth and success.”

Brad Becker-Parton and Drew Houpt joined Cinereach’s Goldman and Paul Mezey to produce BEACH RATS and began the casting process in the spring of 2016. The role of Frankie was not an easy one to cast, given the film’s psychological subtlety, sexual candor and frontal nudity. The production found its Frankie in a young English actor, Harris Dickinson, who makes his feature debut in BEACH RATS.

Dickinson says his interest in BEACH RATS was piqued by the email from his representatives in Los Angeles. “They said that screenplay was a bit rough-and-tumble and I might not like it. Those are usually the scripts that I want to read, because they’re unconventional,” he laughs. “I started reading and I loved it straightaway. I felt the tone of it, I felt the pace. The character jumped off the page for me — I was feeling it and reading as Frankie. It’s rare when something like that happens and it makes you really enthusiastic about the project. You want to be that character and you want to tell that story.”

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He appreciated the observational nature of the script. “It’s not a typical problem-and resolution narrative. It’s an honest and raw look at a period in someone’s life,” the actor remarks. “We start the film and we’re introduced to the fact that Frankie’s father has cancer. It’s a time for Frankie where nothing is secure, nothing is solid in his own head. His father dying is a weird thing for him. He doesn’t really show much emotion in the script or in the film, he doesn’t react to it in the traditional way. A lot of the time, someone is a closed book and there are these brief moments where the book opens for a slight second and you see the underlying sadness, the underlying hate and fear and insecurity.”

Dickinson wasted no time making an audition tape, which made a powerful impression on Hittman. “The first thing that stood out to me was his very deep voice. But then he had this sort of gangly, teenager body and very intriguing eyes,” she recalls. “Harris’ acting was very subtle and didn’t telegraph anything that was internal. He didn’t transform, he didn’t take it to melodrama. He had a natural sense of rhythm and understanding of the dialogue. It was clear that he was a leading man and that he could carry the weight of the film on his shoulders.”

Dickinson’s upbringing in suburban London gave him a certain insight into the environment he would inhabit as Frankie. Says Hittman, “Harris is from the outer edges of London, which is not that different from the outer edges of Brooklyn and Queens and there are a lot of similar class issues. He understood the world perfectly. It was like he knew these guys without ever having been to New York,” she comments. She also felt affinity for his approach to acting. “Harris is very intuitive. He doesn’t want to talk in depth about the character. He wants to focus more on the behavior. He understands that acting is an act of doing. He’s a very serious and thoughtful young actor, very mature and focused.”

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Read about the origins of BEACH RATS here.