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TagFemale Filmmakers

Slamdance: Impetus

What drives us? What motivates us to create? Is it love, loss, joy, pain, fear, wonder… Or is it all the above?

In Jennifer Alleyn latest film Impetus, a hybrid narrative drama and documentary, she examines the creative process through existential angst. It’s a free-form exploration of the philosophical ideas behind our impulses. The film transitions back and forth between French and English, between Montreal and New York City. Creativity has no firm place, has no set language. It’s fluid and the story structure, or lack thereof, reflects that. It’s up to us to give our imagination a shape for others, and for ourselves. Sometimes that easy but more often than not its a struggle.

There is the filmmaker (Jennifer Alleyn), who is nursing a broken heart and has lost sight of the character in her upcoming movie. Then there is John (J. Reissner), her musician friend whose dealing with the effects of age and loss of those near and dear to him. Rudolf (Emmanuel Schwartz) is the filmmaker’s lead actor who, like a reptile, wants to shed his old skin to begin again. Then there is the filmmaker’s lead actress Pascale (Pascale Bussieres) who is eager to please but feels a deep loneliness that disconnects her from her art and her happiness. A pianist Esfir (Esfir Dyachkov) who refused to play the piano by herself after her son’s untimely death. And taxi driver (Besik Kazarian) whose face we don’t see but whose astute observations on life brings Pascale to tears.

The movie shares a lot of deep thoughts on creativity and love as the driving force in our lives.


“The character are there. We don’t always see them.”

There is a reptilian theme that I found thought-provoking and effective. Pascale and Rudolf housesit for a traveling artist, taking care of his reptile, a gecko. We see the creature in the terrarium, peeking through the plants. Then in different scenes the audiences sees various other plants with human subjects behind them, as though the filmmaking process is like looking into a terrarium. Rudolf (Emmanuel Schwartz) reenacts the movements of a reptile in a scarily convincing way. The movie goes into the filmmaker’s creation and draws us back out to the process. When the reptile loses its tail it will grow a new one, representing loss and the creative process. One character says, that while the tail will grow back, a scar will remain; “there will always be a difference between the old and the new one.”

Impetus is an inventive exploration of the metaphysical. However it struggles to keep the viewer’s attention. While the story got away from me the philosophical ideas stuck.

Impetus had its US premiere at Slamdance 25 as part of the Narrative Feature Competition.

Alright Now

“It’s over. It’s time to let go.”

Singer Joanne (Cobie Smulders) and her band are on a nostalgia tour in Dorset. Big in the 1990s, Joanne is struggling to hold on to the magic from two decades ago. When her bandmates quit and she discovers her boyfriend Larry (Noel Clarke) is cheating on her, Joanne is left to her own devices. She meets up with her best friend Sara (Jessica Hynes) and they drunkenly apply to a local college. The next morning they find out they’ve been accepted. Not willing to deal with the current state of their lives they become part of the college scene, going to parties, challenging each other to ridiculous competitions and making friends with their dorm mates. Joanne meets Pete (Richard Elis), a relatively shy and awkward guy who works as the college registrar. At first Pete is just a potential hook-up. But as she gets to know him she discovers something more meaningful in their encounters. Pete and Joanne are polar opposites and the positive aspects of their personalities start to rub off on each other. Can Joanne let go of her past and embrace a future full of unknowns?

Alright Now was written and directed by Jamie Adams. It’s was shot over 5 days and the scenes are entirely improvised. This is quite a filmmaking feat and I would love to see a behind-the-scenes documentary discussing this aspect of the process. The story and the flow felt more organic, like I was watching a real story unfold rather than a scripted piece.

I really wanted to know more about Joanne’s career and the affects fame had on her. Instead the story focuses more on the love story between Joanne and Pete. At times I think there would be more to Joanne and Sara’s story but the movie would deviate away from them.

Alright Now is a charming indie movie that goes with the flow and lets the main character take her story where it will. Cobie Smulders is a natural fit to play the erratic yet fun loving rock star trying to make sense of her new life.

The movie is available on VOD from Gravitas Ventures.

The Rainbow Experiment

Rainbow Experiment

“The world you see is just a movie in your mind.”

Matty (Conor Siemer) is just an ordinary high school student. Like his fellow classmates in class, he acts out, challenges the faculty and puts on a show for his friends. When his chemistry teacher gives him a task, things go horribly awry as a fireball explodes in his face, sending him, in critical condition to the hospital. This is a catalyst for events that follow, as the authorities, the faculty, the parents and the students all try to make sense of this tragic event and come to terms with their own demons.

The Rainbow Experiment studies the way people react to trauma. The film is raw, powerful and experimental. The motley crew of characters, all connected to the protagonist Matty in some way directly or indirectly, range from the most level-headed to borderline insane. They employ defense mechanisms, placing and displacing blame. The movie breaks the fourth wall with Matty appearing as a somewhat ghostly figure, examining the events at the high school, while his still living body remains at the hospital, and relates his observations to the viewer. Inventive cuts and split screens help depict the divisiveness of the situation and the ensuing chaos. As the movie progresses and the characters try to make sense of what happened, it becomes less and less about the victim and more about everyone’s own struggles.

“People make choices and those choices affect other people.”

The Rainbow Experiment expertly explores the failure to communicate between adults and teens. The us against them mentality, evident on both sides, reaches a boiling point after this tragic event and the film deconstructs the ramifications of that toxic mindset. This film is bold, unsettling and should be required viewing. And for those of you who quit a movie at the very sight of the end credits, you’ll miss the inventive dual ending.

Written, directed and produced by Christina Kallas, The Rainbow Experiment premiered in January at the Slamdance Festival. I look forward to seeing more from this innovative filmmaker.

Gravitas Ventures is releasing The Rainbow Experiment in theaters, DVD and digital on December 7th.

 

 

Swiped

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 “One day I will code an app that will make a difference.”

Coding genius and all-around tech nerd James (Kendall Ryan Sanders) is off to a bad start in his first semester in college. Upon arrival, he’s confronted by a trio of bullish classmates who don’t want to do any work in Professor Barnes’ (Kristen Johnston) introduction to computer science course. This trio includes James’ lady killer roommate Lance (Noah Centineo) and his two knuckle-headed friends Dylan (Christian Hutcherson) and Daniel (Nathan Gamble). Matching their desire for anonymous campus liasons and a cover for their course workload, Lance convinces James to create a hook-up app called Jungle. In this app, men and women find matches but are not allowed to learn names or to commit to future dates or any sort of relationship. For James, anonymous and purely physical hook-ups hold no appeal. Instead he’s looking for a lasting connection with Hannah (Shelby Wulfert), the girl he embarrassed at prom and with whom he’s still hopelessly smitten. When the app spreads like wildfire and cannot be contained, it starts negatively affecting users, especially women who are looking for a more lasting connection. The final straw for James is when he learns that his mother Leah (Leigh-Allyn Baker) is using the app. It’s time for some major disruption!

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Directed by Ann Deborah Fishman, Swiped is a tender-hearted comedy about the importance of face-to-face connections in an increasingly disconnected world. The story has many layers. It’s a examination into the changing landscape of modern dating. It’s also a celebration of what makes us all different. As a self-proclaimed nerd, I love any movie that lifts us up rather than bringing us down. My favorite part of this movie is the multi-generational comedy with the college age youth in James’ world, his relationship with his high school age sister who is showing signs of emotional disconnect and James’ divorced parents who are navigating the dating world as middle-aged singles. Perhaps the most poignant of all is James’ grandparents Phil (George Hamilton) and Sunny (Alana Stewart), who serve as an example of a long-term relationship completely void of the technology that is complicating the lives of their children and grandchildren. I was drawn to this film as a fan of George Hamilton and I loved his scenes, especially those with Sanders who plays his grandson James. There are some funny and touching moments where we see grandpa Phil trying to get his family to reconnect with the people around them. I especially enjoyed the speech Phil gives to James when James asks what he should be looking for and Phil replies “you have to face people face to face to find it.”

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When we discuss how female filmmakers have the potential to positively affect the representation of women, this can be seen in Swiped. Ann Deborah Fishman not only directed but also wrote and produced this movie. The female characters, even those who have small roles, are multi-faceted. And in general, every character in this story has the potential to be a caricature but instead they all defy their own stereotypes. I found this incredibly refreshing.

Swiped is available on digital. You can watch it on Amazon Prime, Vudu, FandangoNow, iTunes and Vimeo On Demand.

 

Lady Bird

This post is sponsored by DVD Netflix.

 

Lady Bird’s story is your story. But it wasn’t mine.

I don’t call myself a film critic. I call myself a film writer. Why? I can’t be completely objective about a movie. Emotions always get involved. When I watch a movie I feel things. I experience joy, sadness, enlightenment, confusion, anxiety, fear, shock or awe. I’m overwhelmed or underwhelmed. Some movies open my eyes to new experiences. Some unlock something within me that’s been dormant for years. Sometimes a movie makes me so mad I want to punch something. Sometimes a movie makes me so happy I want to share it with anyone who will listen.

Recently I asked myself the question, how does someone appreciate a film when they have no emotional connection to it?

Greta Gerwig’s critically acclaimed and award winning film Lady Bird (2017). Released to much praise, the story follows Lady Bird (Saoirse Ronan), a high school senior living in Sacramento circa 2002. We follow her as struggles with her transitional year. She has a strong hate/love relationship with her home town, butts heads with her strong-willed mother Marion (Laurie Metcalf), loses her close bond with her best friend Julie (Beanie Feldstein), and pretends to live in a fancy house in the rich part of town to impress a popular girl at school. Then there are the boys. She falls for Danny (Lucas Hedges) and Kyle (Timothee Chalamet), two very different boys but both relationships offer the same potential for heartbreak. Lady Bird, whose real name is Christine, is opinionated, brash, and desperate to find some happiness in what she deems a bleak existence.

 

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In one online review, a viewer pointed out that Sacramento could be any town and that Lady Bird could be any teenager. This is true. Lady Bird’s story is one many people could relate to. Many of us have complicated relationships with our hometown, with a parent, with a friend, with a teacher and with our first love. In the film Lady Bird goes through the whole gamut of life experiences from losing her virginity, to fighting with her mom, to watching her dad go through depression, to losing and regaining a best friend and to losing, finding and losing again that romantic connection with another person. And her name change to Lady Bird is symbolic; she’s a young woman who wants to spread her wings and fly away. And as for Sacramento, the hometown she thought she hated so much… It took her leaving for New York, shedding her self-appointed moniker and experiencing a new life to realize how much she actually loved that town and missed it.

When I was 17 years old, my experience was the complete opposite of Lady Bird’s. I hated my hometown of Milford, MA and still do to this day. Every visit back is filled with dread. In fact I despised Milford so much as a teenager that I attended an agricultural high school in another county. Mostly because I wanted to spend as much time away from my town as possible. In the film, Lady Bird who once joked about living on the wrong side of the tracks begins to feel peer pressure to please the popular crowd. I felt none of this pressure in high school and I thought the popular kids, barring one notable exception, were all idiots. I butted heads with my dad not my mom. I didn’t have a sibling growing up, Lady Bird has a brother. My parents didn’t have any opinions or influence on my college applications. I didn’t go to my prom. I didn’t have a best friend or boyfriends. While many of you were Lady Birds growing up, I was not. At all.

People talk about stories being mirrors (reflecting yourself) and windows (with a view to someone else’s experience). Watching Lady Bird was like looking through a window and not fully understanding what was happening on the other side. I had to break down this film into its parts. Great actors? Check. Well-developed characters? Check. A deep connection to a particular time and place? Check and check. Good dialogue, pacing and storytelling. More checks. Lady Bird is a brilliant film. Greta Gerwig, Saorise Ronan and Laurie Metcalf are a fierce female filmmaking trio. This movie is for many people even if it wasn’t for me.

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As a DVD Nation Director, I earn rewards from DVD Netflix. You can rent Lady Bird on DVD.com

Further Reading: My review of Brooklyn (2015)

 

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