Friday, April 8, 2016

Director Gregg Bishop submits to Georgia's Siren call

Posted By on Fri, Apr 8, 2016 at 12:42 PM

Siren screens at the Atlanta Film Festival Sun., April 10. - GREGG BISHOP
  • Gregg Bishop
  • Siren screens at the Atlanta Film Festival Sun., April 10.

Gregg Bishop was making movies in Atlanta before movies were really being made in Atlanta. OK, sure, Sharky's Machine, Smokey and the Bandit, Cannonball Run and who knows how many other Burt Reynolds movies were made here before Bishop learned how to shoot, but when the Powder Springs native and USC film school grad returned to Atlanta to make his first feature, The Other Side, in 2006, the current production boom was still years away.

"Nobody was shooting any movies when I filmed that here," Bishop says over the phone from California, a few hours before flying in for the Atlanta Film Festival for a screening of his new horror film Siren. "[I] shoot my first film, nobody's making movies, and then I come back and it's great getting to see how much the film community has grown and how many movies are being shot in Atlanta."

That community has grown dramatically over the last decade, and people are staying busy. Bishop saw that first-hand when putting together a crew to shoot Siren in Savannah. "I made my first film with no money. People were just jumping on board because nobody was really doing it," he says. "When I've come after that it's interesting because it's kind of hard to get crew. Everybody's working."

Siren's local ties extend beyond Bishop. The full-length picture is inspired by "Amateur Night," a segment from the horror anthology V/H/S that was directed by Atlanta native David Bruckner. Like "Amateur Night," Siren is about a hideous monster who takes the form of a beautiful woman in order to lure men to their deaths. You know, like a siren from mythology, not a siren from a firetruck. Its writers, Ben Collins and Luke Piotrowski, went to SCAD in Savannah. Much of its cast and crew works regularly on productions throughout the state.

Bishop worked closely with Bruckner on the feature. Bruckner was not only executive producer, he was also a second unit director. "Being a huge fan of his, I wanted to make sure he was as involved as he wanted to be, and he wanted to be really involved, which was great," Bishop explains. "In a movie you always have second unit stuff to be shot and who better than the guy who shot the original? He was very involved creatively and all the way through.

"It's a really unique experience—as a director you don't often get to work with other directors that you admire. It's cool to have that opportunity here. He would shoot some second unit stuff, and I'm cutting the picture, and it's fun to cut somebody else's footage. It was a really good working relationship."

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ATLwood: Taraji P. Henson on set at Morehouse College

Posted By on Fri, Apr 8, 2016 at 9:08 AM

What's Happening?
>> In full swing: The Atlanta Film Festival has successfully kicked off its first week. And that's both good news and bad news. The bad news is: the festival ends on April 10th, so there's only two more days for you to experience some great films and film related events.The good news? Well, it's really the same as the bad news: there's two full days left! 

Head out to the festival tonight and catch a critic-favorite, Driving with Selvi. The documentary spans over 10 years and follows an Indian woman who escaped an arraigned marriage at 14 years old and went on to become South India's first female taxi driver. 

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Thursday, April 7, 2016

Que Sera considers the consequences of a cancer diagnosis

Posted By on Thu, Apr 7, 2016 at 10:00 AM

"Que Sera" screens Sunday at the Atlanta Film Festival. - ROBYN HICKS
  • Robyn Hicks
  • "Que Sera" screens Sunday at the Atlanta Film Festival.

Que Sera follows a young couple as they go through processing a cancer diagnosis. Directed by Atlantan Robyn Hicks and edited by her husband Jonathan, whose real-life cancer diagnosis inspired the film. Though it’s a drama about illness, there are moments of levity, a great soundtrack, and excellent performances by Kate Kovach (the girlfriend), Weston Manders (the boyfriend) and Barry Anbinder (the doctor). Moving beyond disease, the short film explores questions that come with all young-adult relationships: What are we doing together? Where is this going? Can I be without you?

The couple says that Jonathan’s diagnosis has pushed them to accomplish more in the past three years than they would have otherwise. This is their second short film together, and post Que Sera, they’ve already completed filming another short. Robyn is also a member of the Atlanta chapter of Film Fatales, an organization uniting women filmmakers throughout the world. Here, Robyn and Jonathan discuss Que Sera, living with cancer as a young couple, and empowering women through film.

You and Jonathan have made another movie about cancer together, Nirvana: A Short Film About Cancer. This time you were the director and writer. What else is different about Que Sera?
Robyn Hicks: Well with Nirvana, Jon directed that one and that was very much coming from his perspective as the person who was going through the diagnosis. Que Sera is more narrative than Nirvana and it really dives into the relationship between a couple and how the cancer diagnosis can affect both of them: the patient and also the caregiver. How it can tear them apart but also bring them together in a lighthearted kind of way.

Dealing with cancer is extremely difficult. It’s something that no one really knows how to deal with until it happens to them. Not to mention the fact that when Jonathan got diagnosed you were both in your 20s. Can you talk a little bit about that experience?
RH: You’re definitely right, nobody really knows how to deal with cancer. Even though we’ve been dealing with it for the past three years I still don’t know how to tell somebody to deal with it. My best advice is to just get through each day and in some way find something to be happy about. So I thought that that was really important. A lot of times when you see films about illness, they’re afraid to dive into the ugliness in it. So it was important for me to show two aspects: the ugliness and the despair. And also, in the moment in the film when the couple comes together, they kind of forget about the diagnosis and live life.

In your twenties, life is so much about planning what comes next. But, with a diagnosis, you’re forced to just stop and be thankful for what you have, as opposed to planning for the future so much.

Jonathan Hicks: And truly, I mean not just in the short film Que Sera but in real life with Robyn and myself, we initially thought that the diagnosis of cancer would end everything. We were just gonna have to give up all of our dreams. But in actuality, this cancer has inspired us and fueled us and we’ve prevailed beyond it and we’ve actually accomplished more since the diagnosis than we had prior to. So it’s made us appreciate the importance of the moment and we’ve not let anything slip beyond us like we had before. You know [before] we were thinking, “Oh that can wait till tomorrow.” [Now] we’d do it today.

RH: Absolutely, I totally agree with him. We were filmmakers before this happened. So as an artist you take whatever life gives you, and in this example it’s so extreme, but as filmmakers we took it and we did the only thing that we know how to do with it: infusing it into our creativity in hopes that it could touch other people who have experienced something similar.

It made us stop worrying so much about success and just focus on the work and our dreams and our passions. I mean, I went back to graduate school after his diagnosis, something that I had always kind of put off, but it kind of forced me to realize that life is short, there’s a lot of ups and downs, and you just have to do what makes you happy.

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Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Morris From America reflects on those awkward tween years

Posted By on Wed, Apr 6, 2016 at 12:14 PM

Morris From America closes the 40th Atlanta Film Festival on Saturday. - A24 FILMS
  • A24 Films
  • Morris From America closes the 40th Atlanta Film Festival on Saturday.

Chad Hartigan used to hug his pillow a lot when he was 12. But one special day, he got bored and decided to take his pillow love a step further. He dressed it up, slow danced with it, then proceeded to hump it. It’s a moment that changed his life.

“It’s an embarrassing true story that always got a reaction from people, so I thought maybe it would be a good scene in a movie,” he says.

And so begins Hartigan’s screenplay for his newest movie, Morris from America, which premiered at 2016’s Sundance Film Festival and plays Sat., April 9 at the Plaza as part of the Atlanta Film Festival. A coming-of-age tale about 13-year-old Morris Gentry (Markees Christmas) who has an affinity for the Notorious B.I.G. and moves to Germany with his dad, Curtis Gentry (Craig Robinson), the film focuses on Morris’ adjustment to not only being in a new country but to falling for an older girl. It pulls a lot from Hartigan’s personal experiences growing up.

“As I went along [crafting the story] I came up with a way to both incorporate my stories but also take it away from being purely autobiographical and find a different way to tell the story,” says Hartigan, who attended the North Carolina School of the Arts and was roomies with director Aaron Katz.

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Tuesday, April 5, 2016

Speed Sisters sheds light on badass Palestinian women racers

Posted By on Tue, Apr 5, 2016 at 2:00 PM

Speed Sisters screens Thurs., April 7 as part of the 40th Atlanta Film Festival. - TANYA HABJOUQA
  • Tanya Habjouqa
  • Speed Sisters screens Thurs., April 7 as part of the 40th Atlanta Film Festival.

Speed Sisters follows five women as they embark on an especially dangerous career path: racing cars across the Middle East’s West Bank. The documentary marks Canadian filmmaker Amber Fares’ directorial debut. Before the film screens this week at the Atlanta Film FestivalCL and Fares had an email exchange to chat about her personal POV, women’s unique struggles in marketing themselves, and the patriarchy.

How has your experience with groups like the United Nations shaped your identity as a filmmaker?
Amber Fares: They have helped me have access to a wide variety of people and stories that I may not have otherwise been able to access on my own.  

Speed Sisters marks your first feature film. How is it different from past work? How has your perspective of filmmaking changed since its release?
AF: In Palestine there is a very specific news cycle that exists that often focuses on violence that is systemic of the military occupation that exists and/or short human interest stories that exist within that environment. I really wanted to make a film that went beyond the sound bites and the news stories and take a deeper look at what life is like in Palestine. One of the things that always struck me about being there is how resilient people are — and how, despite the occupation and the impact of the political situation on their lives, they still try to live their lives to the fullest. It was this resilience and love of life that I wanted to focus on. 

Tell me about how you stumbled on this group of women and approached them to create this film.
AF: I was living and working in Ramallah and was invited to see a race. The first race I went to took place in [late Palestinian leader Yasser] Arafat’s old helicopter landing pad on a hill in Bethlehem. It blew me away. There was easily 1,000 people there, dancing and cheering. It was just such an amazing, festive scene — and in the middle of it were these four women. I just knew I had to learn more about them.  

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Monday, April 4, 2016

The Arbalest will make you question what's real

Posted By on Mon, Apr 4, 2016 at 2:00 PM

The Arbalest screens Tues., April 5 at 9:15 p.m. at the Plaza Theatre as part of the Atlanta Film Festival. - ADAM PINNEY
  • Adam Pinney
  • The Arbalest screens Tues., April 5 at 9:15 p.m. at the Plaza Theatre as part of the Atlanta Film Festival.

Albert Lamorisse, the director of The Red Balloon, also created the board game Risk. That's a real fact I learned from the new film The Arbalest. I didn't believe it at first. It sounds made up. Adam Pinney's feature, which won the grand jury prize at the South by Southwest Film Festival last month, focuses on a lonely and obsessive toy designer. The film twists fact and fiction liberally throughout its 80 minutes. Real toys appear with fake names and fictional backstories, a fake game that shares the movie's title boasts the real-life history of the game it's based on (Pinney couldn't get the rights to Risk), and scenes set in the 1960s and '70s are intentionally stilted and artificial. Between its dry performances and stage-like set dressing, it almost feels like a play-within-a-film. And then a major twist at the end confirms that everything in the world of The Arbalest is not as it seems; that we've been in an alternate history or parallel universe all along.

"I wanted this weird, otherworldly tone so that when the twist happens, it's a surprise, but you still buy it because you're already in this strange world," the Atlanta-based Pinney says. "Making other stuff in the world feel a little off helps support it, so that's why there's this fake board game and this cube that's Rubik's Cube but isn't. [The twist] was an early idea. I wanted that to be the culmination of the lead character's emotion and rage."

When that moment comes, and you realize what Pinney audaciously pulls off, the rest of The Arbalest starts to make more sense. And the nature of that twist, and how it impacts the story, reveals a lot about not just Pinney's lead character but also how Pinney himself feels about a significant real-life issue. Forest Kalt, The Arbalest's deplorable lead, can be seen as an avatar for a certain type of cultural mindset in America today, one for which Pinney clearly has little sympathy.

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Friday, April 1, 2016

'The Founders' unearths the emotional story behind the LPGA

Posted By on Fri, Apr 1, 2016 at 11:04 AM

The Founders looks at the start of the LPGA in the 50s. It screens Monday at the Atlanta Film Festival. - CHARLENE FISK & CARRIE SCHRADER
  • Charlene Fisk & Carrie Schrader
  • The Founders looks at the start of the LPGA in the 50s. It screens Monday at the Atlanta Film Festival.

The Founders
explores a little known moment in sports history: the start of the Ladies Professional Golf Association (LPGA) by a small group of committed athletes in the 1950s. Using reenactments, archival footage, and interviews with the last remaining survivors the filmmakers spin a tale of the birth of a new creation. CL spoke with directors Carrie Schrader and Charlene Fisk about process, motivation, and surprises during their four-year journey. The film screens April 4 at 9:15 p.m. at the Plaza Theatre as part of the 40th annual Atlanta Film Festival.

Why did you want to make a film about the LPGA?
Carrie Schrader, writer, director, producer: Charlie [Charlene Fisk - director, editor, producer] had seen success making historical biographies and was looking for her next project. A friend of hers showed her an article about the women who founded the LPGA. She decided to call one of the women. Little did she know she was calling the toughest one of the group — Louise Suggs. Louise gave her an incredibly hard time of it, but her passion and protectiveness intrigued Charlie and she thought, “Hmmm, there’s something there.”

I came on board a little later. Charlie and I had been working on a fiction web series and she asked me to help write and direct. Coming from the make-believe, narrative world and having no interest in golf, I was hesitant. But when I saw some of the footage of these amazing characters, I was hooked. This wasn’t only a story about golf or female athletes, it was a story about incredibly flawed, determined people who faced incredible odds. It is a universal story about underdogs and passion and redemption and ... I just fell in love.

What was the biggest surprise in the story while making the movie?
CS: Getting Louise Suggs on camera. Louise is one of those lovable, tough-­as­-nails curmudgeons who makes you feel like you are in trouble the minute she lays eyes on you. She has a fierce moral center that burns up any bullshit in the room. She is suspicious, protective, passionate and utterly honest. She makes for a fabulously dynamic heroine! However, once she retired from the LPGA she rarely did any interviews. At first, she was extremely resistant, it was only after many months of phone calls and handwritten letters that Charlie and The Founders team were able to convince her to trust us. We [were] extremely fortunate to get one of the last interviews with her.

But by far the most surprising moment came when Louise, who prides herself on not showing any emotion, saw her larger-­than-­life picture featured at the World Golf Hall of Fame and broke down. That was one of the most powerful, unexpected moments we have ever experienced as filmmakers.

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Thursday, March 31, 2016

Athens GA makes 'A Peculiar Noise'

Posted By on Thu, Mar 31, 2016 at 4:28 PM

A Peculiar Noise screens April 2 at 7 Stages Theatre as part of the 40th annual Atlanta Film Festival. - JORGE TORRES-TORRES
  • Jorge Torres-Torres
  • A Peculiar Noise screens April 2 at 7 Stages Theatre as part of the 40th annual Atlanta Film Festival.

A Peculiar Noise
was shot in 2014, but Jorge Torres-Torres's documentary about the Athens music scene is suffused with the spirit of a band whose heyday came a couple decades earlier. Named after an Olivia Tremor Control lyric, the film presents an Athens marked by the kind of collaboration and experimentation that defined Olivia Tremor Control and its Elephant 6 compatriots. It's a loosely formatted, free-flowing film barely organized around AthFest 2014. A Peculiar Noise is interested less in structure or narrative than in capturing the messy and sometimes chaotic nature of being an artist and musician in Athens. If you ever shared a house on Reese Street that was as much of a practice space as a home, or played in three bands while holding down a regular shift at a bar or restaurant downtown, you'll recognize a part of your past in A Peculiar Noise.

The Olivia Tremor Control was a large part of why Torres-Torres moved to Athens in 2001. (He left for New York and a thriving film career in 2006.) He followed friends from Louisiana who played in a band called the Urbosleeks (I've got their first single, and it's a good one) and easily fit into the world his film would later document.

"I was introduced to the Elephant 6 in the late '90s. It was this collective experience, where Elf Power or Olivia Tremor Control would play with Neutral Milk Hotel, and both bands were sharing members. A different configuration, but they'd have the same spirit. … Everybody becomes friends with everybody," he says of his early days in Athens.

"You meet [Olivia Tremor Control member, Wuxtry clerk, and most ubiquitous man in Athens music] John Fernandes, you meet this and that person, and all of a sudden you've met everybody and you're in a band with everybody. [The Elephant 6] are definitely the guys that made us want to move to Athens. They created the big wave in the late '90s and early '00s," he says, accurately describing the importance of Olivia Tremor Control, Neutral Milk Hotel and their friends. Just as bands like R.E.M., Pylon, and Love Tractor served as a beacon to like-minded artists and musicians in the early 1980s, the Elephant 6 attracted a new class of creatives to the Classic City at the turn of the last century.

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Wednesday, March 30, 2016

A few questions with director Rob Burnett

Posted By on Wed, Mar 30, 2016 at 2:31 PM

Selena Gomez stars as a runaway named Dot in The Fundamentals of Caring. - ROB BURNETT
  • Rob Burnett
  • Selena Gomez stars as a runaway named Dot in The Fundamentals of Caring.

Rob Burnett’s new film The Fundamentals of Caring, an indie dramedy featuring Paul Rudd and Selena Gomez, opens the 40th Atlanta Film Festival on Fri., April 1. Adapted from a novel by Jonathan Evison, The Fundamentals of Caring tells the story of Trevor (Craig Roberts) who has muscular dystrophy and is confined to a wheelchair. Trevor’s new caregiver is Ben (Paul Rudd), a father who recently lost his child. The two embark on a road trip and along the way pick up Dot (Selena Gomez). A former producer for the "Late Show with David Letterman," Burnett infuses comedy into the heartwarming drama. The movie has already had a promising start: It was picked up by Netflix and had a great run at Sundance, where it played the closing night. The film promises to be a light-hearted yet emotional film. Plus it was filmed in Atlanta and PAUL RUDD. WHO DOESN’T LOVE PAUL RUDD? Here Burnett talks about his movie, filming in Atlanta, and what it means to work with two Hollywood stars with opposite types of fandom.

What from the book spoke to you and how did you decide to adapt it into a comedy?
Rob Burnett: I thought that Jonathan Evison, the author of the book, did such a beautiful job taking very difficult material and treating it in a funny and non-sentimental way. There’s a version of this story that we’ve seen a lot of which is you have kind of an irascible caregiver come in and breathe life into the injured or ill person and bring them back to life. Which can be a beautiful story … but what really got my attention is that the caregiver, Ben, Paul Rudd’s character, is every bit as ill and injured as Trevor, Robert’s character. One paralyzed emotionally, one paralyzed physically. And I thought it was interesting to see these two guys come together and almost accidentally breathe life into each other.

As soon as you decided to do this book you immediately thought of Paul Rudd?
RB: I did. There are a lot of funny actors out there and there are a lot of great dramatic actors. It’s very hard to find somebody that can do both. And Paul’s on a very short list of people that can deliver nuanced performances and also be hilarious. Because among other things, I did want this movie to be really funny, and that was a real challenge.

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Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Batman v Superman vs. self-importance

Posted By on Wed, Mar 23, 2016 at 11:23 AM

WORLD'S FINEST? Batman (Ben Affleck) faces off with Superman (Henry Cavill) in Dawn of Justice. - COURTESY WARNER BROS.
  • courtesy warner bros.
  • WORLD'S FINEST? Batman (Ben Affleck) faces off with Superman (Henry Cavill) in Dawn of Justice.
Ahead of the release of Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, movie buffs and online obsessives wondered whether the DC Comics superhero epic looked too grim and portentous. Expectations are high for director Zack Snyder’s follow-up to 2013’s Man of Steel, with the new film meant to launch Warner Brothers’ equivalent to The Avengers and the blockbusting Marvel Cinematic Universe.

I can testify that Batman v Superman is not as dark as its trailers made it look. If anything, it’s darker than that, a comic book film apparently opposed to the fun in its source material. It’s the kind of movie that’ll end one scene with a Renaissance painting of angels fighting demons, and segue to a mourner carrying flowers to a mausoleum. Self-important to the point of self-parody, Batman v Superman turns an intriguing pop culture conflict into a joyless slog that’s only fitfully engaging.

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