A Co-Writer to Watch, Too

March 20, 2015   |   posted by Lara Klaber in Filmmakers

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It’s no exaggeration to say that “Man From Reno” director Dave Boyle is one of the darlings of the CIFF.

Since his first film, “Big Dreams, Little Tokyo,” unspooled at the 31st CIFF in March 2007, Cleveland audiences have embraced Boyle’s insightful comic sensibilities. In 2011, he was honored with the Festival’s Someone to Watch award. This year, he is taking his signature style in a new direction with his first mystery.

“For a long time, I’d wanted to do something in the mystery genre—it’s my absolute favorite genre,” he explains. “The moment of inspiration was when I had the idea of combining two mysteries about an unlikely pair of detectives: a Japanese mystery author and a small town sheriff.”

Boyle teamed up with long-time co-writers Joel Clark and Michael Lerman to flesh out his unique vision, and this year, CIFF audiences will have an opportunity to meet one of those co-writers for the first time: Clark is making his first trip to Cleveland to promote the film while Boyle prepares it for wider release on March 27.

“I’m really excited to finally experience the Festival for myself,” Clark says; four of the films he co-wrote came here without him in previous years. “It’s been a long time coming. Both Dave and Ben [Popik, director of “The Exquisite Corpse Project” (CIFF 37)] have nothing but wonderful things to say about Cleveland, especially the sort of unique, opening, and welcoming spirit of the folks out there.”

In addition to co-writing “Man From Reno” and “The Exquisite Corpse Project,” Clark helped pen “White on Rice” (CIFF 33), “Surrogate Valentine” (CIFF 35), and “Daylight Savings” (CIFF 36).

“Dave and I have been working together for eight years,” he says, “and it’s been a real pleasure to see our work get made by way of his unrelenting productivity. Seriously, the guy is a machine! Moving into the mystery genre in our writing has really forced us both to become better writers, and I have him to thank for pushing us in that direction.”

Filming took them into some strange places, including night shoots in Los Angeles’ Griffith Park where they struggled to keep the scene full of properly mysterious fog. “Fog can’t be faked through CGI,” Boyle notes. “Trying to make the fog behave and not dissipate was a nightmare. To top it all off, when we wrapped at 4 a.m. on our last day, the park ranger had forgotten about us and we were locked in Griffith Park!”

To Boyle’s and Clark’s relief, the fog looked perfect in the footage.

“I think it’s important to remember that storytelling is essentially lying for the sake of truth,” Clark explains, “and I like films that walk the line.”

So do we.

Lara Klaber

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Related Screenings:
03/20/15 @ 8:35 PM – Man from Reno
03/21/15 @ 3:45 PM – Man from Reno
03/21/15 @ 8:00 PM – Man from Reno
03/22/15 @ 2:20 PM – Man from Reno

Related Events:
03/20/15 @ 7:00 PM – Knight and Day in Akron

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A Peek into Khalil Sullins' Mind

March 19, 2015   |   posted by Lara Klaber in Filmmakers

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If you’ve ever wished you could take back a Tweet or a Facebook post that somehow slipped out, Khalil Sullins has the film for you.

“I wanted to explore our relationship with communication and technology,” the New Direction panelist and director of “Listening”reflects. “The whole film is really a metaphor, for me, for the Internet and social media . . . every day we’re given a new way to put our thoughts and feelings out there into the world faster than ever before, but it’s not necessarily making us better communicators on a human level.”

That observation inspired the question: what if someone invented telepathy?

The answer, for Sullins’s hapless protagonists, is that their problems become worse rather than better. Their relationships, already dysfunctional, go off the rails, and soon the stakes are raised even higher when several groups realize their technology could be used for espionage. “I wanted to do something that felt really relatable and character-driven at the beginning, and then by the end it was a full-blown popcorn thriller with the world hanging in the balance,” he laughs. “I’m a big comic book fan. I grew up reading comic books and still do. My shelves are full of graphic novels, trade paperbacks, and superhero comics. I loved sci fi growing up, but I really love all genres.”

Sullins draws inspiration from directors, like Ang Lee and Stanley Kubrick, who can work across the genres, honoring their conventions while harnessing them for broader, deeper stories. That approach is present in “Listening,” which fuses the character-driven indie film with the sci fi thriller. From inception to release, he spent more than four years working on the film. His process includes the meticulous creation of what, in TV circles, is often called a “show bible.”

“I was trained in a research-intensive method of direction, so I put together this massive director’s book with all the visual research of every different look and style in the movie—every prop, every costume—to give to all the different heads of the departments, and to really give them a good springboard to then add all of their creativity.” His background in art and photography explains much of this, but Sullins is careful not to let visuals overwhelm the story.

“When I went to film school, I wanted to be a director, and actually didn’t like writing at all,” he admits. But the student films he saw bothered him. “I felt like they looked great, but they were failing on the script level, so I really tried to hone my screenwriting craft. In the process, I fell in love with writing.”

He is already developing his next script, one that also takes on “big, heavy things that I don’t really know how to deal with in the world . . . when I’m writing, I like to tackle subjects that I don’t have all the answers to. If you’re going to be dedicating three to five years of your life to something, it’s a good way to explore some meaningful topics and try to find something to say about them.”

We’ll be listening.

— Lara Klaber

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Related Screenings:
03/19/15 @ 8:30 PM – Listening
03/20/15 @ 2:00 PM – Listening
03/22/15 @ 9:30 AM – Listening

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An Adventure in Filmmaking

March 19, 2015   |   posted by Lara Klaber in Filmmakers

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As soon as Douglas Boswell saw the first draft for “Labyrinthus,” he was hooked. He knew immediately that this was the movie he wanted to be his directorial debut.

Pierre DeClercq had written a first draft while was watching his 14-year-old son gaming. At the time, he didn’t know where to turn to with it. It wasn’t until many years later when the two men started talking about doing an adventure movie together, that he dug up the script.

“When I read it, I was thrilled from the moment the cat got uploaded into the game,” Douglas says. “The idea that a normal, everyday kid could be drawn into an adventure where he has to save his friend from a computer game really resonated with me.”

As a kid, Boswell had been a gamer. At the age of 8, he always wanted to play arcade games at the swimming pool cafeteria. Later, when he was 13, he reassembled several joysticks into new kinds of game consoles and foot pedals for racing games.

“Now that I’m creating stories in television and cinema,” he says. “I don’t get to play often anymore.”

Boswell credits his years directing several successful TV series in his native Belgium with helping him deliver such an entertaining and engaging film. For one thing, television taught him to make quick decisions. With only 30 days to shoot the entire film, there was no time to waste.

Since he also had experience working with kids and animals, he felt he had a good idea of what he was getting himself into.

“It was absolutely great working with such a young cast. They were having the time of their lives and were so eager to learn. On one hand, children don’t have the life experiences to draw their emotions from, but you can steer their imaginations a lot easier than you can when working with adults.”

He feels that for his young stars, the whole shoot was practically a game. He observed that by the time the filming was over that they had become each other’s’ best friends.

Boswell would like the audience also to go out and have fun with their friends after watching his film.

“Make up stories and share with each other the stories you can come up with. Don’t just stay indoors to play games, but go outside, look around, there is still so much to discover in your village and town. Maybe there’s a weird shopkeeper or a lonely homeless guy. Maybe they’ve got a story to tell too.”

Right now, Boswell has his hands full with several stories of his own. He has just finished a feel-good comedy series and this summer he’ll be directing a scary children’s series. In addition, he is working on a script for an all-new adventure movie that he hopes to direct in the near future.

And if you’re still thinking about that cat, Boswell says you don’t have to worry.

”It is ready to be the star of the sequel.”

Lisa Curland

PDF  Download Related PDF [1.1 MB]

Related Screenings:
03/19/15 @ 12:05 PM – Labyrinthus*
03/20/15 @ 7:00 PM – Labyrinthus*
03/21/15 @ 9:20 AM – Labyrinthus*

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Kick-Starting Christmas

March 19, 2015   |   posted by Lara Klaber in Filmmakers

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For Charles Poekel, the idea “Christmas, Again” began shortly after he moved to Brooklyn and went in search of a Christmas tree. “I didn't really notice Christmas tree stands in New York City until my first year living in Brooklyn,” he recalls. “I was looking to get a tree late one night, and when I asked the tree guy if they were still open he chuckled and told me they never close. Once he said those words I realized how bizarre of a job it was, and I set out to write a script about it.”

Poekel began to imagine what the life of a night salesman would be like, and soon he was writing, and preparing to direct, his first feature film. Things soon became even more authentic for him as he hit on a good way to fund the film: open a tree stand of his own, ensuring that he would always have access to his set.

“Our cast and crew sold Christmas trees between takes and it became a kind of rite of passage for us,” he recalls. “However, I think in the end we scared away more customers than we got.”

Since the tree stand couldn’t quite fund his film on its own, Poekel turned to Kickstarter, asking for help to raise $14,500. 194 backers came on board to raise $15,541, ensuring that he could complete the film on schedule. One backer, coming in at the $2,500 level, became an associate producer on the film, and “Christmas, Again” ended up being one of seventeen kickstarted films that went to Sundance.

Although Poekel has worked on many documentaries in the past, the switch to narrative film presented its own challenges. The biggest hurdle was casting.

“In documentaries,” he points out, “your cast is usually ingrained in your story; the two can be inseparable. There's no “Grey Gardens” without the Ediths; there's no “King of Kong” without Steve Wiebe and Billy Mitchell. When you realize this, you also realize that if you don't have a good cast, it doesn't matter how good your script is, or how good your DP is, your film can only be so good. So for me casting was terrifying.”

Terror, however, seems to be a source of inspiration, even if his stories aren’t scary themselves. “Music and film are huge inspirations for me,” he says. “Especially things that push the limits and take a lot of risks. Basically all the things I'm too scared to do myself.”

With his casting fears conquered, he is already planning his next narrative film, which he and his wife have co-written and hope to shoot in the fall. “It's an ensemble piece set at a lake house in the 90's,” is all he will say. Still, we can expect it to be fascinating.

“I think what drew me to filmmaking,” he recalls, “was my desire to tell stories that people respond to (positively or negatively). I was moved so often by films growing up, that I wanted to try to provide that same experience for others.” That’s working out well for him so far!

— Lara Klaber
Photo by Tim Safranek

PDF  Download Related PDF [1.1 MB]

Related Screenings:
03/19/15 @ 7:20 PM – Christmas, Again
03/20/15 @ 2:20 PM – Christmas, Again

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A Place to Call Home

March 19, 2015   |   posted by Lara Klaber in Filmmakers

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Colin Healy starts out describing his first film, “Homemakers,” by saying it is about how a character, Irene, develops over the course of the story. But he also sees it as a story about place and how place affects people.

“This is not a film about everybody and how they build a home,” he says. “But it’s definitely about someone and how she becomes comfortable enough to be in her own home.”

“You go on a journey with this women who is incredibly grating at first and then the more you learn about her the more you can sympathize with her.”

Most of the story takes place in Pittsburgh, which is central to the story.

“Pittsburgh was built as steel expanded and jobs came in and they built a new neighborhood,” says Healy. “And more jobs came in and they built a new neighborhood. But these neighborhoods were built very quickly and the city has clearly been built in this patchwork way.”

Healy wanted to reflect that feeling in Irene’s house as she makes decisions to work on one room and then another. Because it isn’t thought out or planned, it becomes its own form of patchwork.

Irene started as a side character in a script that Healey wrote but didn’t like. He did like the character and how she encapsulated impulsivity, so he wrote a new script for her. He feels that what he calls her “extreme form of ultra-hipsterdom” hasn’t been explored in other films.

“She is so off-putting at the beginning of the film and some people will roll their eyes and say this girl is crazy. But she’s not crazy. She’s got some [stuff] that she’s going through, but she’s going to get through it.”

Although he acknowledges that Irene is incredibly rude and not very helpful at first, he thinks the audience will be able to identify with her because “we all go through periods where we realize we’ve missed opportunities to connect better with people because we’ve let our insecurities get in the way.”

He sees it as a story that is not specifically about millennial counter-culture rebels, but the main character happens to be a counter-culture rebel who feels like she is different, trying to figure out how to build a home when she’s never felt safe.

“In the end, no matter how big your home is or how much stuff you have in it or whether you have any stuff, your home is definitely the place where you feel rooted and you can be your most honest self. And the energy of being something else when you’re out in the world can slip away. And you don’t have to spend that energy when you’re in your home.”

Unlike traditional LGBT stories, the film is not about coming out or about specific discrimination. He credits CIFF for including it in the 10% sidebar and recognizing that an important part of Irene’s character is her absolute confidence in the fact that she loves a woman and wants that woman to be part of her life.

“Irene is a person who was disadvantaged and discriminated against because she was gay in a conservative family,” he says. “She became very strong because of that but she is unaware of her privilege and how that allowed her to be strong.”

Lisa Curland

PDF  Download Related PDF [1.1 MB]

Related Screenings:
03/19/15 @ 9:35 PM – Homemakers
03/20/15 @ 5:15 PM – Homemakers

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