Lovely Families Living in Flux and Turmoil

March 30, 2014, 12:30 AM   |   posted by Lara Klaber in Filmmakers

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Rich Hill, Missouri, is not rich. In fact, its 1,393 residents live in poverty. At one time, though, it was a thriving mining town south of Kansas City. Filmmaker Tracy Droz Tragos grew up visiting the city during school breaks, because it was her father's hometown. But now, years later, the town is bleak, has a large jobless population and many failed businesses.

This time her visit resulted in the documentary, "Rich Hill."

Tragos and her cousin, Andrew Droz Palermo, followed several families who seemed, according to the filmmaker, “largely ignored and clearly facing a lot of challenges.”

“They're lovely, amazing families, but often living in so much flux [and] turmoil,” Tragos told Indiewire. “We were honored by the trust the families had in us to tell the story of their lives with dignity and honesty,”

The three boys that the film follows reveal some “tough stuff” during the filming. They talk of dysfunction, abuse and survival.

The film won the U.S. Grand Jury Prize, Documentary at Sundance this past January. In accepting her award, Tragos told the audience, “Thank you for letting them into your hearts.”

For those who see the film and are moved to action, the filmmakers encourage audience members to get involved and support their local school, food bank, or some of the national organizations that offer resources to small town and rural communities, such as the National Center for Children in Poverty.

— Anne M. DiTeodoro
Photo by Laura Watilo Blake

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Related Screenings:
03/29/14 @ 7:20 PM – Rich Hill
03/30/14 @ 3:15 PM – Rich Hill

Someone the Whole World is Watching

March 30, 2014, 12:25 AM   |   posted by Lara Klaber in Filmmakers

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Che Sandoval is, for many Chileans, a national hero.

Although he has only directed two feature films, both of those films have taken the Festival circuit by storm and made him a household name in his home country. His second film, “Much Better Than You,” is not as much a sequel to as a spin-off of his first film, “You Think You’re the Prettiest (But You’re the Sluttiest),” which screened at the 35th CIFF in 2011. Both films play again this weekend as Che is given the Festival’s Someone To Watch Award.

If you saw “You Think You’re the Prettiest…” when it screened three years ago, you may remember the protagonist, Javier, briefly encountering a man whose girlfriend had just left him to study in Spain, and who was determined to drown his sorrow in as many women as he could manage to seduce. “Much Better Than You” tells that man’s story, elaborating on that night and what it meant for him. That is, it turns out, the night that he must make a crucial choice.

“He has to decide between his family and his adolescent lifestyle,” Sandoval explains in an interview with DazedDigital. “The movie is about being 30 to 40, an age in which you are between stages.”

Astute viewers may be able to spot an improvement in production values between films—“You Think You’re The Prettiest…” was shot on a $3,000 shoestring budget, while “Much Better Than You” had a budget of approximately $200,000, a testament to how bankable and beloved Sandoval is now in Chile—but the same philosophy informs both works.

“I’m interested in human nature,” he says. “I'm interested in how the concept of man has changed. For instance, my first movie is about what you think is being a man when you're 20 ([seduce] all the hottest girls that you find) and the second one is about what you think is being a man when you're 35 (have a family, grow up).”

Sandoval’s approach is a successful one; “Much Better Than You” has already taken home prizes at the Buenos Aires International Festival of Independent Cinema and the Warsaw International Film Festival. Now he gets to take home another award, this one signaling his status as a budding auteur. As for what we can expect to watch from him in the future, he has been very clear: he is already developing the third film in his envisioned trilogy. With the way everything he touches has turned to gold for him so far, we know that it won’t be long before Che Sandoval makes another triumphant return to the CIFF.

—Lara Klaber

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Related Screenings:
03/28/14 @ 6:40 PM – Much Better Than You
03/28/14 @ 9:10 PM – You Think You're the Prettiest, But You're the Sluttiest
03/30/14 @ 12:00 PM – Much Better Than You
03/30/14 @ 2:20 PM – You Think You're the Prettiest, But You're the Sluttiest

Have You Hugged A Volunteer Today?

March 30, 2014, 12:15 AM   |   posted by Lara Klaber in

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You have seen them everywhere you went in the Festival since Day One: friendly, smiling people in bright orange t-shirts, performing jobs that ranged from ballot collection and ticket-checking to serving ice cream in the Hospitality HQ. They are our phenomenal volunteers, who this year number over 800. Each day’s roster of volunteers on duty averages 200 – which was the total number of volunteers for the whole Festival when volunteer co-coordinator Gayle Norris started, as a volunteer herself, in 1998.

In fact, many members of the Festival’s seasonal staff, which this year numbers 210, got their starts as volunteers. For some, it’s a way to work toward a career in the film world, or try to network with people in the industry. For most, however, it’s simply a way to participate in an event that they love on an even deeper, richer level that gives back to the community… and which may still turn into a long-term regular position.

One patron was in the midst of describing a volunteer she particularly liked seeing—a man with a beard and a friendly, welcoming smile, who had been out in the theater hall for the past few years—when she spotted him walking up. “That’s him now,” she said. He was Brandon Olsen, who joined the theater operations staff last year after volunteering in the hallways for two years.

Now that he’s “part of the bigger CIFF family,” his advice is to “treat volunteers like you want to be treated.” Friday was Volunteer Appreciation Day in honor of that idea, and for the second year, we are presenting an exemplary CIFF volunteer with the Ralph D. Howard Memorial Volunteer Award, in honor of one of our most iconic and beloved volunteers. (Some of you may remember him as “Einstein!”)

Our volunteers are truly a breed apart, and we would be lost without them.

Anne DiTeodoro and Lara Klaber

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A Story of Inspiration

March 30, 2014, 12:10 AM   |   posted by Lara Klaber in Filmmakers

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Matt Shepard has become a household name. In 1998, 21-year-old Shepard was brutally beaten and left for dead in Wyoming. His name is now linked to the Hate Crimes Prevention Act, commonly known as the “Matthew Shepard Act.”

“Matt is an iconic symbol of the LGBT community,” says director Michele Josue. Her feature film “Matt Shepard Is a Friend of Mine” documents the life of Matthew Shepard and leaves the fame of his death in the past.

Josue attended boarding school with Shepard in Switzerland. He was a few years older than her, so Josue says she watched the story of his death “unfold from a distance.”

“I watched the media take over and strip Matt of his humanity,” Josue says. Over 15 years later, Josue crafted her film to generate interest in this charming man whose life was taken out of hatred.

“The desire to make this film has always been building inside of me,” Josue explains. “I wanted to wait until I was ready, members of his family were ready and we were able to talk about him in a vulnerable way.” She pauses and adds, “I wanted to be ready to do it.”

Even when she felt ready, the director maintained her fears and doubted herself often. The balance between emotional intensity of such a heavy, grief-ridden subject and having to complete an artistic endeavor, was not easy for Josue. But she was determined to tell her friend’s story.

“Matt’s story inspires people to be more compassionate,” says Josue. “It’s very easy to judge what you don’t know.” Shepard was like any other young person, he just happened to be gay. His story is universal because Josue says, “So many young people feel scared and different.”

“Matt Shepard Is a Friend of Mine” paints a beautiful portrait of a young man who was known for years as nothing but a symbol, and a symbol of the effects of hate nonetheless.

We can all learn something from Matt Shepard’s death but even more from his life. “Ignorance and hate are very much a part of our society,” says Josue. She adds hopefully, “Though times are changing.”

—Molly Drake

PDF  Download Related PDF [1.2 MB]

Related Screenings:
03/29/14 @ 5:00 PM – Matt Shepard Is a Friend of Mine
03/30/14 @ 2:15 PM – Matt Shepard Is a Friend of Mine

Exploring the Messy Depths of the Human Mind

March 30, 2014, 12:05 AM   |   posted by Lara Klaber in Filmmakers

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It began with a single scene floating through Richard Shepard’s head: a convict preparing for his release from prison and relishing the prospect of collecting on the debts those on the outside owe him. When he sat down to write it, Shepard knew that he had found gold. The rest of “Dom Hemingway” flowed out as naturally as breathing.

It takes skill and experience to
reach that level of writing synergy.
 Shepard, who has been in the
business since 1990 and who almost graduated from NYU (there was
just that one pesky science class...), has both. His work on the pilot episode
of the television series “Ugly Betty” earned him an Emmy and a Directors Guild of America award, and he has been involved in the creation and development of many other award-winning and household-name shows. His films are lower-profile only because they tend to be too cerebral for summer popcorn fare. A-list actors, however, jump at the chance to work with Shepard.

Whether delving into offbeat comedy (“The Linguini Incident”) or crime thriller (“Mexico City”) or hybrids of both (“The Matador,” “The Hunting Party”), Shepard’s films are unflinching character studies which find both their comedy and their drama in the messy complexity of the human mind. “There’s a great tradition of smart, slightly-off crime thrillers,” he explains, “movies with a criminal undertone, yet are really about fascinating human characters.”

Shepard’s deft handling of this tradition is what makes the titular anti-hero of his latest film, safe-cracker Dom Hemingway, so compelling. “Despite Dom shooting himself in the foot at every turn,” he says, “you like him. He has his own ways of dealing with things and most of the time they get him in trouble.”

The synergy didn’t stop with the creation of the script. Although initially surprised when Jude Law expressed interest in playing Dom, Shepard was swiftly won over after the two met. “I knew from those first few pints with Jude that his vision of what Dom should be was exactly what I wanted. He became a collaborator . . . And then we got to a point where we were reading each other’s minds about what would make sense for Dom to do, and it was incredibly fun to be part of that.”

The result is a portrait of a flawed, volatile man with hidden depths, who “uses language as much as his fists to gain attention.” In spite of his disagreeable side, Dom is someone audiences will want to root for.

“Dom is a devilish rascal of a man,” Shepard points out, “yet deep down he has a real beating heart that starts to beat again
by the end of the movie.”

—Lara Klaber

PDF  Download Related PDF [1.2 MB]

Related Screenings:
03/30/14 @ 7:00 PM – Dom Hemingway

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