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Mise En Scene Jan 10
Put Your Heart On the Line
"I am just someone with a dream who won't give up ," says Bernadette McCarthy (above), a theater and film actress, and TV producer, from Dublin (Ireland, not California). "I just have maybe a little more perseverance than most. It is like I don't have a choice about that – not doing it would be so much harder."
What Ms. McCarthy is coyly referring to is "Love on the Line," her first feature, by her Irish Dream Films, which she not only directed but acted in. It is arguably the best locationed, staffed and acted indie in the Bay Area this season. She shot at Mavericks, the colossal Half Moon Bay surf spot, collaborated with director Rob Nilsson, and had Irish star Bryan Murray.
Murray is an accomplished Irish stage and screen actor who has appeared in British television shows and American commercials, according to the Irish Herald, which did a long piece on "Love on the Line." Also appearing is Una Crawford O'Brian, an Irish television actress, and notable local actor Jeffery Davis, coordinated by local casting director, Nancy Hayes.
Fleshing out the stellar team is Oscar nominated production designer Geoffrey Kirkland ("Angela's Ashes," "Children of Men") - "which really enhanced the look of the film," noted McCarthy; Ricardo Gale, a cinematog out of LA who's done TV shows, commercials and some features, including "Touching Home," with Ed Harris; and Eoin Harrington, the Dublin born singer/songwriter, who scored.
McCarthy got support from all aspects of the Bay Area film scene, from noted impresario Maurice Kanbar to the San Mateo Film Commission, as well as indie powerhouse Rob Nilsson, who did script and directorial advising.
"Bernie called me up, we talked it over and decided she's the boss and I am just the opinion," Rob told me. " I wasn't trying to impose any stylistic thing of my own, just help her make her idea as good as it could be. She's a first-time director who has promise and I advised her to dive right in. For the amount you'd have to pay for someone you could trust – trust yourself. Make your mistakes, learn what you are good at, and follow your star. And that's what she did."
"It is a story with a lot of heart, hope and an upbeat happy ending," says McCarthy. "I believe it will be particularly welcome to audiences given the current doom and gloom in the economy." An immigrant story about two sisters from Ireland who move to San Francisco, its also has humor and some surprising twists.
"As a single parent making a movie in an economy which has practically annihilated the arts," McCarthy concludes, "I liken myself jokingly to the unsinkable Molly Brown - never giving up on the dream no matter what."
With final cut almost finished, they're talking to distributors in the US, Ireland, and other markets, including Japan where McCarthy also lived. The film looks great and could become the San Francisco sleeper of 2010. Catch a clip at loveonthelinethemovie.com. - D. Blair
A Nice Girl Like You...
"What's a nice girl like you doing in a film like this?" I wanted to ask the diminutive, darling but evidently not so innocent Cheryl Rae Fidelman, right. She stars in "Fell," a psycho-logical thriller about a woman who adapts to a lifetime of abuse and incest by becoming a serial killer. Written and directed by Christopher Rusin, and produced by Shahin Gholami and Liz Lopez for a very low five figures, "Fell" is currently in submission to 21 festivals worldwide.
"It was the role I have always dreamed of," Ms. Fidelman told me, "I feel lucky to have amazing support from the filmmakers and crew to go so deep into my character. I must say, it helped me with my own stuff, to make it completely 'the past,' so I could be free from it."
Fidelman's character is triggered when propositioned by men and winds up killing those she deems predators. Once a taste for blood develops, she decides to free herself from her wheelchair-bound mother, with whom she's been stuck for years on a desolate farm.
The film was shot, also by Mr. Rusin, in Napa on a working farm owned by the family of a crew member, Karl Streich. Although Rusin did the first draft, the script was revised throughout the two-month shoot, notably by Rusin but also by Gholami, who assistant directed, Reuben Godinez, who creative directed, and Fidelman.
An award-winning spoken word artist, Fidelman improvised most of her lines. "Reuben [Godinez] and I were in awe of Cheryl's ability," said Lopez, "Her performance was brilliant."
Sadly, the friendly and creative Mr. Godinez didn't live to see the final result. He was struck down in November by spinal meningitis at only 34. But the story he worked so hard on, lives on.
"We put our blood, sweat and tears into this film," Fidelman said (literally in Godinez's case). "We worked many 14-15 hour days and it was a deep journey for all of us. I studied the lives of several serial killers, focusing on how their childhood influenced their decision to kill and the emotional release that killing provided. I found many experiences from my past about which I still held anger and resentment. I released it all when Christopher called 'ACTION!'"
Perhaps that is why nice girls play bad girls: a chance to gain catharsis. – Doniphan Blair
IndieFest Erupts Feb 4-18
Jeff Ross was incensed when he realized no one would show "Caged," by his friend Rand Alexander, which Slamdance acclaimed in 1998. So he did what any good film friend would do - he started a festival. Financed on plastic, the event was enthusiastically attended by over 3,000. A decade later, it draws over 11,000 annually and is a forum for showcasing local filmmakers and their often arduous work.
This year it will take place from February 4th to the 18th, at various Bay Area theatres including the Roxie in San Francisco with entry $11 at the door and $20 for Opening Night, which includes the after-party. See
IndieFest specializes in premiering films unavailable anywhere else, and this year's festival is no exception, with novel pieces ranging from Lee Galea's "Less Adolescent," about an Australian teen loosing his mother, to Toshiaki Toyoda's "Blood of Rebirth," about the Middle Ages, or "A Plus D," by Amber Sealey, about the ups and downs of a complex relationship.
On a more local note, Harrod Blank returns in David Silberber's film, "OH MY GOD! IT'S HARROD BLANK!" An obsessively made documentary, filmed over 18 years, which explores the creative life and adventures of the eccentric art car maker and movement leader (hello, Burners!), as well as filmmaker, and son of noted Bay Area documentarian Les Blank.
In addition to films, IndieFest is all about parties. After the opening night there's almost one a night including the Big Lebowski Party, now in it's seventh year at CellSpace on February 12 - come dressed as your favorite Lebowski character. All in all, the IndieFest is a full-throated testament to local filmmaking. – Tom Mayer
Academy Students' No-Pay- Allowed Doc Plays SlamDance
Unable to ignore the call of the ocean, a civil engineer builds his own fifty-foot boat and sets sail. Similarly unable to ignore the call of cinema, two San Francisco Academy of Art students, Alan Wigley and Steve Christolos, to the left and right of their subject above, transform a class project, for instructor Rob Martin, into a two year quest to make the 19 minute film, "The Sundowner," playing Slamdance this year.
Jon Bendz, their subject, is a reserved man who thought his story would be only a short class assignment - hence his insistence on no fiduciary aspect whatsoever. But as the film garnered positive audience reactions, Christolos, who directed, and Wigley who produced - as well as Anne Earhart, an instructor at the Academy, who shot, and Beth Prouty, the brains behind postproduction and publicity - found themselves stretched between protecting Bendz and developing a lovely doc about dreams, determination and the sea - a parable for filmmaking, if there ever was one.
"Through the creation of "The Sundowner", I've learned that trust, once gained, is sacred," Christolos told me, "There is no substitute for personal integrity. What I've gained from making the film is my own reward. It makes me proud to know that Jon's family, and future generations to come, will have 'The Sundowner' to hold onto, and not one of them will have to pay a dime."
"We learned to respect the subject, and he asked us not to sell the film," Wigley, who is originally from Scotland, told me. "Making this movie helped us mature not only as filmmakers but as young men. Jon is beautiful man. It took me and Steve two years to make the film - a tough two years! But it took Jon six years to build his boat. Then he lived on the sea for nine lovely years but it was tragically taken and he lost everything," which of course is the drama of the doc.
"He was leaving Washington for Australia for the 2000 Olympic Games," Wigley elaborated. "When he was warned by the Coast Guard of incredibly rough seas. But they - he and his son Joaquin - thought they could make it. Luckily, they were saved by a crabbing ship. They tried to tow the boat for three days but one night the captain told him it was going down. We have very powerful footage shot that night. He tried to take on Mother Nature - because of his incredible engineering - but he was defeated that night. He used to be a stubborn man, and it changed him. Now he is the sweetest, most humble man - that is what he learned from it."
Along the way, and also for free, Christolos and Wigley attended tough extracurricular classes on festival submissions, film screenings and post-interview relationships between documentarian and subject. Respecting Bendz's wish for the film not to be sold while promoting "The Sundowner," would have tried the souls of even the most adept filmmakers. Here's to their next project where they might recoup their financial losses and reap their artistic gains. - D. Blair
Cameron's Quarter Billion Art
James Cameron's new 3D fantasy, "Avatar," called by the "New Yorker"'s David Denby, "the most beautiful film I have seen in years," took a mere 17 days to reach the billion dollar mark. The first film to do so - only five have cracked a bill - it proves Cameron is "The King of the World," he claimed he was, when receiving the Oscar for "Titanic," and that Hollywood is recession proof. Escapism is priceless, evidently.
Indeed, "Avatar" is already the most successful film ever in Russia, sucking a sweet 55 mill from that impoverished nation and not because they knew Cameron remade "Solaris," by the Soviet system's most visionary grad, Andrei Tarkovsky. Although "Solaris" was Cameron's only outright art film, he also did "Last Action Hero," starring the Governator, Arnold Schwarznegger, which is self-referential and post-modern as well as slickly Hollywood - a genre we could do with more of.
Cameron is a hard charger, obsessed with breaking barriers, particularly size, see "Titanic," the first film to crack a bill. Indeed "Avatar," in development for almost a decade, cost a whopping 310 million for production, according to industry insiders. It involved cutting edge and expensive 3D and CGI and was considered a fool's errand by some of those same wags.
To parse how he pulled this off, let's look at his marriage to Kathryn Bigelow. Admittedly, it was for only two years, one of which was undoubtedly a living hell of Ur-individualism, but Bigelow studied painting at the SF Art Institute and, just before marrying Cameron, directed the "B to A Film" masterpiece, "Near Dark," a sexy vampire story, which undoubtedly attracted him.
Even after their divorce, Cameron produced her films, suggesting, both in their careers - Bigelow is up for an Oscar for her stylish "Hurt Locker" - and their marriage, no matter how brief, that the art-Hollywood union is possible.
Despite the immensity of some of his projects, see "The Abyss," done while with Bigelow, and involving million gallon aquariums, Cameron remains the romantic artist. Indeed, "Avatar," is about nature-loving space hippies defeating a genocidal mining corporation by turning their secret agent through love. – Doniphan Blair
Madoff's Inferno Maker Not Mad
The story of the world's richest criminal, Bernie Madoff, is currently being tackled by a first-time filmmaker with a microscopic budget ($20K) but telescoping ambition.
"Madoff is really Shakespearean," Tomas Puig, a 27 year-old sound mixer by trade, from the local Compressor Media, told me, in answer to my "Why on Earth?" "He betrayed everyone he knew but all anyone could say was 'He was so nice, kind, and polite!' How could a man split his mind in two for so long? To the outside he was king of the stock market. On the inside, he was destroying all the wealth that came through his door. How did he not crack after 18 years? These questions fascinated me beyond belief."
While there's probably no film quite like "Madoff's Inferno," Puig drew inspiration from golden era dark comedy dramas like "The Apartment" and "All About Eve." "The film is actor driven," explained Puig, "So the look, feel, and movement is drawn from a classic style."
Puig shoots with a crew of five people - himself plus DP Dan Shimer, soundperson Darcel Walker, makeup artist, either Andrea Pino or Toby Mayer, and a PA/grip. Everyone works super hard, obviously.
"No one believes us when we tell them the cost," Puig said, grinning like the Cheshire Cat. "We lit the rooftop scene on our website with only a white sheet from my bed as sunlight diffusion. I got asked how large our location trucks were by the last person I showed it too. All of this is a great credit to the crew."
While they are not faking New York, they need locations that evoke a compact high density city. But Puig doesn't have the funds to wait the requisite weeks for reimbursement to use exteriors that are owned by San Francisco. Hence, they've been using private rooftops and other venues.
For actors, they're using almost exclusively northern California SAG talent. Indeed, Puig has assembled quite a cast including Andre Mathieu as Madoff and the lovely Kari Wishingrad as his wife as well as Garret Griffin, George McRae, and James Anthony Cotton, playing Plato, Socrates, Aristotle respectively, in the morality play dream sequences, and Douglas Dickerman and Victor Fischbarg as the Madoff boys.
"Karen Lipney and Fatna Sallak-Williams at the SF SAG office have been a joy to work with," Puig said, "They really care about the state of film here in San Francisco."
Basically, "Madoff's Inferno" is a retelling of Dante through the eyes of Wall Street's most infamous man. Part fact, part fiction, it follows Madoff's descent into hell, led by Virgil, his college buddy, conman, and tour guide. Along the way Bernie and Virgil meet a cast of seedy characters in the city's underbelly and get a taste of the life he never lived - until his current address at a North Carolina federal prison.
Will Madoff meet his demise or realize his redemption? One thing's for sure: you'll see him in a whole new light.
They've completed almost all of their shooting in SF, as well as a couple of days in Sonoma and at Blue Sky Studios in SF hoping to finish principal photography by March and post production by the end of summer.
"The easiest thing so far," Puig told me, "Has been the shoot itself. I have been blessed with such amazing actors. A crew is like family it really makes the job of being a director a joy." For more
- Doniphan Blair
Posted on Jan 09, 2010 - 10:27 AM