Category Archives: television

Hollywood Foreign Press Interview: Amanda Seyfried

Posted by Larry Gleeson

Anticipation is making me wait! For the last several weeks’ Oscar buzz has been swarming all over Mank, the David Fincher biographical drama revolving around the witty and often acerbic, Herman Mankiewicz, the screenwriter for one of the greatest films ever made, Citizen Kane. The film stars Oscar-winning (Darkest Hour), Gary Oldman, as Mankiewicz, Amanda Seyfried as Marion Davies, and Charles Dance as William Randolph Hearst. Mank is coming on December 4th, 2020, to Netflix.  Getting hot and bothered due to my above-average risk of COVID-19, and not being able to attend a theatrical screening, I share this awesome, albeit all-too-brief, interview as it appeared on GoldenGlobes.com. with the always delightful, Amanda Seyfried. Enjoy! And, until next time, I look forward to seeing you at the movies. 

Larry Gleeson, left, with Hollywood starlet, Angie Dickinson. (Photo credit: HollywoodGlee)

Interview by Scott Orlin

November 23, 2020

Amanda Seyfried on “Mank”: “I have never seen myself dressed up that way.”

Amanda Seyfried was all set to start classes at Fordham University when she got the call. The then 18-year-old had been cast in an upcoming feature, Mean Girls, which required her to postpone her college career to co-star in the Tina Fey penned comedy. Needless to say, the decision proved inspired as the Allentown, Pennsylvania native has never looked back.

Pivotal roles in such TV series as Veronica Mars and Big Love led her to her first lead role in the 1999 musical Momma Mia! co-starring Meryl Streep. The movie, which used Abba songs to convey the character’s emotions, was a worldwide smash and would eventually produce a sequel 10 years later. In between her portrayals of Sophie, Seyfried secured parts in Jennifer’s Body, Sucker Punch, Ted, Letters to Juliet, and most recently, the psychological horror film You Should Have Left. Now the mother of two steps before the camera under the tutelage of acclaimed filmmaker David Fincher in the period drama Mank, that details the creation of the classic film Citizen Kane.

You are stepping into the shoes of actress Marion Davies, though popular in her time many people today don’t really know her. What insights did you gain about her in your research?

Marion Davies, while being a movie star and having some people know who she was, is such a mystery. There actually wasn’t a lot of research. I found one book that was an autobiography published posthumously of interviews she had done about ten years before her death. The way she remembers things, we are not really sure how clear they are. She had done a lot of movies but not many knew her back story. If you happened to have seen Citizen Kane, you could see that Susan Alexander was inspired by Marion. It is tough to figure out who she is. I do feel the screenwriter, Jack Fincher really captured who she really was more accurately. We get to see how she communicated with other people, especially by the letters she had written, and so we were able to capture the best of her.

She was quite confident. She knew who she was and operated through life that way.

She wasn’t a worrier. She was an extrovert and loved to have fun. That is absolutely the opposite of me. I like to have fun (laugh). I live like an introvert. I can socialize well but I would rather hole up on my farm. That is great but we share an essence in that she was very kind and just wanted to make the most of it. She liked to celebrate all the time and entertain people. She was cool and knew who she was. I think that is why she was so confident.

The look of the film was quite cool. These women from the 1940s style films were dressed regally and not a flaw on their face. How did you like capturing that visual?

I have never seen myself dressed up that way. Even looking in the mirror on set, it was awe-inspiring. It was kind of surreal. I do watch my movies but I am able to take myself out of it to a point. This viewing experience really struck me by the fact that it made me look like I was really living in that era. It felt like it at times. Not a lot of actors get that opportunity. It was very special. I don’t think I will ever get over it. I wasn’t CGI’d into something. I was there. It is not a trick. It is all so specific to technical details. It is only something Fincher can do.

Speaking of Fincher, how did he work with you? He is notorious for doing many takes.

He knew my character in and out; through his bones. The way he approached me was with the most amount of knowledge about where she was coming from for a specific scene or what she was thinking. It really helped shape my performance. He gave me such details about one little breath that helped me change the reaction to something. He wasn’t that specific but we were on the same ride. He was really connected to Marion in a way that I needed because there were so many things happening. He set these parameters and just led me down the path. He was extraordinary.

Speaking of extraordinary. Congratulations on your new baby.

Thank you. My last baby (laugh).

You never know.

I know (laugh).

 

THE AMERICAN FILM INSTITUTE ANNOUNCES DATES FOR 2021 AFI DOCS FILM FESTIVAL

Posted by Larry Gleeson

SUBMISSIONS NOW OPEN FOR JUNE 22 FESTIVAL

FOR RELEASE, NOVEMBER 18, 2020, WASHINGTON, DC —

AFI DOCS, the American Film Institute’s annual documentary celebration in the nation’s capital, has opened submissions and announced the dates for the 2021 edition of the festival. Now in its 19th year, AFI DOCS will be held June 22-27, 2021. The festival program presents the very best of contemporary non-fiction filmmaking from across the globe, including world and international premieres and works by master and emerging filmmakers alike. The AFI Festivals team is committed to achieving the same high standard of programming and engagement that has defined AFI DOCS over the years while planning a virtual and/or hybrid in-person festival experience for 2021. Submissions for 2021 AFI DOCS are now being accepted at DOCS.AFI.com/submit-your-film/.

During the 2020 COVID-19 pandemic, AFI DOCS presented a successful virtual event with over 55 films from 11 countries – 61% directed by women – with a lineup that explored social and political issues in the US and across the world. A national audience of 20,000 attended the festival safely from home.

2020 program highlights included Special Presentation of Apple and A24’s award-winning film BOYS STATE, Ron Howard’s REBUILDING PARADISE, and world premieres of 9TO5: THE STORY OF A MOVEMENT, WHITE NOISE, and MIRACLE FISHING. The virtual experience also included over 50 intimate conversations with subjects from around the world such as Philippine Journalist Maria Ressa, who was convicted by a Manila court days before A THOUSAND CUTS screened at the festival, to a live Q&A of THE FIGHT with the ACLU’s lawyers focused on protecting civil rights and a call from President Carter during the live Q&A for Closing Night film JIMMY CARTER ROCK & ROLL PRESIDENT.

Stay tuned for more on the only festival in the U.S. dedicated to screenings and events that connect audiences, filmmakers, and policy leaders in the heart of our nation’s government!

ABOVE AND BEYOND NASA’S JOURNEY TO TOMORROW Filmmaker Rory Kennedy discusses her film at the AFI DOCS 2018. (Photo Credit Gediyon Kifle)

 

ABOUT AFI DOCS

AFI DOCS is the American Film Institute’s annual documentary festival historically held in Washington, DC.  Presenting the year’s best documentaries, AFI DOCS is the only festival in the U.S. dedicated to screenings and events that connect audiences, filmmakers and policy leaders in the heart of our nation’s government. The AFI DOCS advisory board includes Ken Burns, Davis Guggenheim, Chris Hegedus, Werner Herzog, Barbara Kopple, Spike Lee, Errol Morris, Stanley Nelson and Frederick Wiseman.  Now in its 19th year, the festival will be held June 22-27, 2021. Visit DOCS.AFI.com and connect on Twitter.com/AFIDOCS, Facebook.com/AFIDOCS, YouTube.com/AFI and Instagram.com/AmericanFilmInstitute.

About the American Film Institute (AFI)
Established in 1967, the American Film Institute is the nation’s non-profit organization dedicated to educating and inspiring artists and audiences through initiatives that champion the past, present and future of the moving image. AFI’s pioneering programs include filmmaker training at the AFI Conservatory; year-round exhibition at the AFI Silver Theatre and Cultural Center and at AFI Festivals across the nation; workshops aimed at increasing diversity in the storytelling community; honoring today’s masters through the AFI Life Achievement Award and AFI AWARDS; and scholarly efforts such as the AFI Catalog of Feature Films that uphold film history for future generations. Read about all of these programs and more at AFI.com and follow us on social media at Facebook.com/AmericanFilmInstitute, YouTube.com/AFI, Twitter.com/AmericanFilm and Instagram.com/AmericanFilmInstitute.

AFI President and CEO, Bob Gazzale, introduces the world premiere of PERSONAL STATEMENT at 2018 AFI DOCS opening night. (Photo credit, Tom Kochel).

(Source: Press release provided by AFI DOCS PR, Elizabeth Ward)

 

Today’s AFM: ‘What’s Working in the Pre-Sales Marketplace?’

Posted by Larry Gleeson

Millennium Media, MadRiver and The Exchange Talk Pre-Sales Market in the Pandemic

 

AFM Finance Conference 11/12/20 @ 12:30PM

Highlights from today’s AFM Production Conference: What’s Working in the Pre-Sales Marketplace?

Top, left to right: Kimberly Fox, Partner & Head of International Sales, MadRiver International, Jeremy Kay, Americas Editor, Screen International, and bottom, left to right; Jeffrey Greenstein, and Nat McCormick, EVP, Worldwide Distribution, The Exchange.

Panelists
Kimberly Fox, Partner & Head of International Sales, MadRiver International 
Jeffrey Greenstein, President, Millennium Media 
Nat McCormick, EVPWorldwide Distribution, The Exchange

Moderator
Jeremy Kay, Americas Editor, Screen International

What’s it like engaging with buyers on pre-sales right now?

Kimberly Fox: “I see it as being quite binary. It’s either big, theatrical stuff…or it’s real small distributors trying to do a quick arbitrage…I don’t see the in-between for pre-sales at all.”

Nat McCormick: “The bigger the project, the easier it is when it comes to the pre-sale…though we have had success in sub $10m budget range if it’s the right formula, priced the right way…There is a pre-sale market if there are buyers that are literally just looking to buy content that they’re going to sell to television pain-free and VOD…”

Jeffrey Greenstein: “The biggest challenge is going to be making the film for the right price that the market can bear with consideration for whatever the means of distribution are.  And if it’s a major theatrical title, we have to make sure that timing works for theaters to be around.”

How have your pre-sales slates shifted?

Nat McCormick: “We historically have always had about a 50/50 ratio, pre-sales versus finished film pickups. We do a good amount of volume, maybe about 15, sometimes even on the top end, 20 movies a year, and half of those will be pre-sales, and half of those will be finished films or ones we pick up once they’re in post. So, has that changed during the pandemic? Not so much, it’s kind of been the same formula for us.”

Kimberly Fox:  “I don’t think it’s changed at all. We do a lot less movies a year, we do about 6, maybe 8 if we’re lucky, and we’re primarily pre-sales driven.”

Big pre-sales at this AFM?

Kimberly Fox:  “The Things They Carried is a tremendous package, a really great script, based on the award-winning works of Tim O’Brien…with Tom Hardy, Stephan James, Tye Sheridan, Pete Davidson…it’s well budgeted, it’s sub $20m, and we’ve had a lot of heat on it this week…”

Jeffrey Greenstein:  “We’ve introduced the new Has Fallen film…we’re hoping to shoot it end of 2021, which the good news is, for us, that means theatrically, end of 2022 soonest, where we have full confidence in theaters being back in action.”

Nat McCormick: “We do primarily movies in the sub $15m, and actually really the sub $10m space, just because they aren’t so contingent on a wide theatrical release…It can get tricky with these projects if you don’t have the right elements to pre-sell, and you’re going to get a lot of ‘wait-and-see’ feedback, especially if they’re a little bit more specialty…We have been successful in putting together high-end home entertainment titles. So we’ve sold out four Bruce Willis movies…and then we just sold out an Olivia Munn movie that is an action franchise, smaller, but she’s the lead. We have a Pierce Brosnan movie, a Morgan Freeman one…these types of actors, sub $10m budget, you can get the pre-sales that you need, and you vastly sell out the majority of the world to put the budgets together.”

What genres have the best chances in the pre-sale marketplace?

Nat McCormick: “Action is the go-to…because it just works everywhere. Comedy, horror, that’s more localized…or a romcom. I was having a meeting this morning with Mediaset in Spain…what they’re looking for is just Action, A-list, RomCom, A-list female, theatrical, or on a smaller level, they want Action, Adventure, Disaster…that’s kind of from a genre perspective…You have buyers in the specialty category…they want those award-winning, nomination-worthy films. When you’re making a drama, if you don’t get a major film festival and you don’t get the awards, or if you don’t have A-list cast at least, you’re essentially equity financing those movies and selling them when they’re finished.”

Kimberly Fox:  [Regarding Drama] “Unless it fits squarely in that Oscar-worthy range, and if a territory doesn’t have that type of distributor, the specialty distributor, you’re not going to get that sale, so it’s a very fine needle to thread when you’re talking about a drama…It is all about the A-list, A-list, A-list.”

Jeffrey Greenstein: “I think action-comedies we found a lot of success in lately, especially amid the pandemic, people want to be distracted.”

How are indie buyers competing? And with streamers?

Jeffrey Greenstein: “Well, we always have a much more partnership-driven approach to everything we do. There’s such an interdependency in the marketplace with our buyers and their ability to have films, make money, and stay relevant. A lot of what we do is try to pair the streamers up with local partners, that way they can get the backing, we can all do the deal together and kind of everybody wins.”

Kimberly Fox: “We’re going to try and support the independents as much as we possibly can, and a lot of that is putting these partners together. When it comes to…‘we just want to buy the world,’ it becomes very difficult for our partners to compete…”

Nat McCormick: “There’s a little bit of a fallacy that you can just go sell your movie to Netflix. It’s hard to sell one of these movies worldwide…”

What are buyer convos like at the moment?

Kimberly Fox: “In this time, I think anybody that says even what’s going to happen tomorrow has no clue. We can’t predict at all what is going to happen…So we can have a date, and we can race towards it, but anything could go wrong, one test could throw us off…Right now, timing isn’t as crucial in my opinion. Usually you don’t want to start pre-selling too far out because people aren’t going to focus on it, but I think right now it doesn’t matter, I think it’s just the project that is the key.”

Any things on the roster?

Nat McCormick: “We start production next week in Venice, Italy on a Liev Schrieber, Josh Hutcherson movie, so that’s happening in Europe…Europe affords some more help and assistance when it comes to the insurance and bond type of situation that everyone’s navigating. We’ve been shooting movies this year, right now, in the States and just not using a bond. Essentially the financier is acting as the bond company in the event something goes wrong, and that’s why COVID protocols are important to have in place.”

How much did budget go up?  (Re: Shooting in Bulgaria at Nu Boyana Studios with COVID protocols early on)

Jeffrey Greenstein: “I think it cost us about $400k extra on this budget, so I’d say we’re talking about 5 ½ – 6%. Two COVID tests a week for just about everyone on set was very costly…and obviously time, it takes more time to operate with these new protocols and people getting used to it.”

Nat McCormick: “Even just filming a promo, we had to have COVID protocols and a supervisor on set…even the cost of just the marketing materials we’re preparing has gone up.”

Jeffrey Greenstein:  “I think that it comes down to the COVID insurance, right? I actually got COVID coverage on this film right before the pandemic and the shutdown…we found a policy and then the shutdown happened, and fortunately we didn’t need to call it in but we’ve seen quotes on COVID insurance which are incredibly expensive.”

Animation, is that something that you see having legs?

Nat McCormick: “There’s definitely a market for animation. The challenge is that there are some very dominant players, Disney, Pixar, doing animation, so competing against those is hard. We have an animated project that we’re doing right now, it’s called The Inventor, and it’s a stop-motion animation from the creator of Ratatouille and it’s Marion Cotillard and Daisy Ridley, and it’s a great project but it’s not going to be available for over two years from now.  So the trick with pre-selling animation is that it’s very far off. There are two types of animation: there’s wide theatrical animation, with which you literally need to include a theatrical release in the US to be able to get to the $10m-$15m international presales, and then there’s the smaller animation market which is literally just cartoons for TV. So there’s a market for that.  It’s tricky, it takes a while, but that’s something that certain territories really focus on like Russia, Eastern Europe…”

(Source: AFM Press)

 

 

AFM: Jason Isaac’s RAINFALL First Look Footage

Posted by Larry Gleeson

Film Mode Entertainment Presents First Look Footage of Ken Jeong, Temuera Morrison, 
Daniel Gillies and Jason Isaacs’ RAINFALL

 

LOS ANGELES (November 10, 2020) – Clay Epstein’s Film Mode Entertainment announces the AFM market premiere with first-look footage of the highly anticipated sci-fi action epic adventure RAINFALL, starring Ken Jeong (Crazy Rich Asians, The Hangover), Temuera Morrison (Aquaman, The Mandalorian – on Disney+ ), Daniel Gillies (The Originals) and Jason Isaacs (Harry Potter series of films, The OA, The Death of Stalin, The Patriot, Black Hawk Down).

The film is produced by Carly & Carmel Imrie (Occupation, Red Billabong) and American co-executive producer Todd Williams (The Nun, Alex and Me).

“We are very excited to be presenting what some outlets have already dubbed to be one of the most ambitious Australian films ever attempted. This film is a lot of fun and will take the audience on an intense and emotional ride from beginning to end. Rainfall is loud and proud!” Said Carly and Carmel Imrie.

Film Mode Entertainment is representing worldwide rights on RAINFALL outside of Australia and New Zealand.

RAINFALL is currently in final post-production.

About Film Mode Entertainment

Film Mode Entertainment is a leading worldwide sales agent, production entity and distribution company, focusing on commercially driven feature films of all genres and budget sizes. Film Mode represents projects at all stages of the filmmaking process, often as Executive Producer, with the aim of helping producers and distributors achieve maximum exposure for their films. Film Mode’s recent titles include CRYPTO starring Kurt Russell, Luke Hemsworth and Alexis Bledel, HOOKING UP starring Brittany Snow, Sam Richardson and Vivica A. Fox, STAGE MOTHER starring Academy Award nominee Jacki Weaver, Lucy Liu and Adrian Grenier, and DREAMKATCHER starring Radha Mitchell, Lin Shaye, and Henry Thomas.

Previous releases include SUGAR MOUNTAIN starring Jason Momoa, and THE GOOD NEIGHBOR starring Academy Award nominee James Caan. Film Mode accelerated their growth and expanded their capabilities by entering into a partnership with SCREEN MEDIA, representing their catalogue of more than 600 titles, including WHAT’S EATING GILBERT GRAPE starring Leonardo DiCaprio, who was nominated for an Academy Award and a Golden Globe for his performance, and MONSTER, starring Charlize Theron who won an Academy Award and Golden Globe for Best Actress for the film. The company also has its own distribution arm, as well as a documentary label, DocMode. Film Mode is based in Beverly Hills, CA.

(Source: Press release provided by Lon Haber, Lon Haber & Co.)

AFM 2020 ONLINE OPENS WITH A RECORD NUMBER

Posted by Larry Gleeson

AFM 2020 ONLINE SET TO OPEN MONDAY WITH A RECORD 562 exhibitors, PARTICIPANTS FROM 78 COUNTRIES, More Than 1,450 BUYERS AND 465 FILMS Screening

205 Speakers from 20 Countries Come Together Over 70+ Sessions Covering a Breadth of

Timely Topics Critical to the Global Independent Motion Picture Industry

Los Angeles, CA – November 9, 2020 – Kicking off today, the American Film Market (AFM®) announced today that it will welcome the global industry with participants coming from 78 countries and 42 U.S. states – more countries than any AFM in the last decade.  To date, a record 562 Exhibitors are registered for AFM 2020 Online from 48 countries with the largest exhibitor presence coming from the United States with 259 companies followed by Italy (59), the United Kingdom (46), Russia (25), Germany (20), France (19), Canada (17), Republic of (South) Korea (14), Japan (12), and Thailand (11).  The current list of Exhibitors can be viewed here.

The world’s Buyers will also be in attendance with 1,468 Buyers from 66 countries confirmed to date, the largest number coming from the United States, followed by Japan, the United Kingdom, Republic of (South) Korea, Spain, Germany, Italy, France, and Canada. Buyers from the world’s leading digital platforms will also be in attendance. 465 films from 184 companies and representing 24 countries will be screening in the AFM’s On Demand Theatre.

In keeping with its mission to provide timely information and knowledge, the AFM will present its largest programming lineup to date with 205 speakers from 20 countries across 71 sessions centered on opportunities and solutions for finance, production and distribution in the wake of the pandemic.  The Programming kicks off online on November 9 at 9:30 AM PST with The Future of Film Conference featuring Keynote Conversations with Mark Gill, President and CEO, Solstice Studios and Deadline’s Anthony D’Alessandro; and Elissa Federoff, President of Distribution, NEON and Variety’s Brent LangPanels and presentations in partnership with leading industry organizations and institutions will also take center stage, including AAFCA, BFI, NAACP, NALIP, NIFS, SAG-AFTRA, SAGindie, The Black List, The Film Collaborative, USC Annenberg Hollywood, Health & Society, WGAW, and Winston/Baker.

The AFM2020.Online platform was created to serve AFM’s multiple audience segments and features eight dedicated areas including Industry Offices, LocationEXPO, the On Demand Theatre and MyAFM.  One of AFM 2020’s key differentiators is its truly unique and interactive video networking capabilities. With technology provided by the company Filmocracy, participants can meet in the Networking Pavilion with 180 online tables for video discussions on preset topics or meet-ups they can schedule. Filmocracy also supports the two Stages, including session replays, and the Info Center, enabling AFM to provide the “face-to-face” connections that happen organically in Santa Monica.

Jonathan Wolf, AFM Managing Director

Jonathan Wolf, AFM Managing Director commented, “The global film industry has set aside this week to connect for deal making, presentations, and education, and to gather marketplace intel from one another.  AFM’s engaging online experience, with the types of serendipitous meetings that happen organically in the halls, hotels and parties each year in Santa Monica, will keep everyone in touch and ensure that independent film continues to reach audiences around the world.”

The AFM programming lineup will take place live on Stages 1 and 2 with replays available within a few hours.  View the full schedule of sessions and speakers for AFM 2020 Online. Highlights include: 

Monday, November 9

Global Sales and VOD in partnership with The Film Collaborative: Wendy Bernfeld, Rights Stuff, Todd Olsson, Highland Film Group, Brian O’Shea, The Exchange, Orly Ravid, The Film Collaborative and Mitchell Silberberg & Knupp LLP, and Gabrielle Rozing, Fortissimo Films.

Using Artificial Intelligence to Inform Success: Nadira Azermai, ScriptBook, Tobias Queisser, Cinelytic, Debajyoti “Deb” Ray, RivetAI, and Andrea Scarso, Ingenious.

California: The State of On Location Filming presented by the Film Liaisons in California Statewide (FLICS)

Tasha Day, City of Long Beach, Eve Honthaner, The California Film Commission, Sabrina Jurisich, Film Shasta, Beverly Lewis, Placer-Lake Tahoe Film Office, and Donna Washington, FilmLA.

Discover New Voices in partnership with Winston|Baker: Adhrucia Apana, Curiosity Entertainment, Janaé Désiré, Creative Artists Agency, Gina Reyes, Verve Talent & Literary Agency, Sophia Yen, Manatt, Phelps & Phillips, LLP, and Viviana Zarragoitia, Three Point Capital.

Show Don’t Tell Podcast: Director and host Noam Kroll and screenwriter Bryan Hill to talk Screenwriting on a Micro-Budget.

Trends in Japanese Cinema & Television presented by JETRO: Chiyako Slawinski, Producer & Consultant and
Chuck Williams, Lightbeam Entertainment, LLC.

Spotlight on Russia: Meet Russian Content at AFM 2020 presented by ROSKINO: Evgenia Markova, ROSKINO

Tuesday, November 10

Spotlight On: Production in Alberta presented by the Calgary Film Centre: Linda Ambury, Production Manager and Producer, Luke Azevedo, Calgary Film Commission, Tom Cox, Seven24 Films, Mark Ham, Alberta Film Commission, and Erin O’Connor, Calgary Film Centre.

AFM’s Pitch Conference: Producer & Agent, Cassian Elwes (Mudbound, Dallas Buyers Club), Elizabeth Haggard, Participant Media, and Lee Jessup, Screenwriting Career Consultant & Coach.

The Filmmakers Podcast: Hosts Giles Alderson and Ian Sharp talk to Writer/Producer/Director Dan Mazer (Borat, I Give it a Year) about making movies, working on set and the writer/director/producer relationship.

The Producer’s Guide Podcast: Founder of Broken Road Productions, Producer and host Todd Garner and WWE wrestler turned actor John Cena will discuss Producing Comedy in Today’s Hollywood, A Serious Business.

Indie Film Hustle Podcast: Host Alex Ferrari and Producer Franco Sama on Raising Money in a COVID World & The Future of Film Distribution.

Building a Marketing Toolkit for Independent Features: Katherine MacDonald, Paramount Pictures and Russell Schwartz, Pandemic Marketing Group.

High Concept and Low Budget: Using the Writers Guild of America Low Budget Agreement in Uncertain Times:

Bradford Schleder WGAW and Joy Young-Sang, WGA.

Made by Africans, Watched by the World: Mayenzeke Baza, AAA Entertainment, Bradley Joshua, Gambit Films, Rethabile Ramphakela, Burnt Onion Productions, Pascal Schmitz, AAA Entertainment.

Navigating and Negotiating Intimacy on Set in partnership with SAG-AFTRA: Amanda Blumenthal, Intimacy Professionals AssociationGabrielle Carteris, SAG-AFTRAJim Kleverweis, Executive Producer (Euphoria, Insecure and Silicon Valley), Alicia Rodis, Intimacy Directors and Coordinators, and David White, SAG-AFTRA.

New Zealand: Challenges and Opportunities for Film in a COVID World in partnership with the Screen Production and Development Association of New Zealand: Richard Fletcher, SPADA and Libertine Pictures, Patrick Frater, Variety,  Rob Tapert, Executive Producer (Don’t Breath, The Grudge), Chelsea Winstanley, Producer, Executive Producer, Director (This Too Shall Pass).

Wednesday, November 11

Producing Without a Completion Bond featuring Jill Goldsmith, Deadline, Brad Krevoy, Motion Picture Corporation of AmericaBrian O’Shea, The Exchange, and John Sloss, Cinetic Media.

Low Budget Films with Huge Profit PotentialJillian Apfelbaum, Village Roadshow Pictures, John Rhodes, ScreencraftNick Spicer, XYZ Films, and Zachary Tarica, The Forest Road Co.

Managing Financial Risk from Script to Screen: Ryan Broussard, Media Services Payroll, Gregoire Gensollen, Tucker Tooley Entertainment, David Offenberg, Loyola Marymount University, Gary Raskin, Raskin Gorham Anderson Law LLP.

Facts Matter: Health & Science Accuracy Onscreen in partnership with USC Annenberg Hollywood, Health & Society:  Kate Langrall Folb.

Blockchain Streaming Platforms presented in partnership with the Blockchain Global Entertainment Alliance:
Patrice Poujol,  Lumiere Project, Jake Craven, Breaker, Adrian J. Garelik, CEO, Flixxo, Trinabh Gupta, UCSB, Serban Simu, Eluvio.

Film Riot PodcastHost Ryan Connolly and writer/director Colin Levy talk Directing a Blockbuster Film on an Indie Budget.

Thursday, November 12

How to Secure the Right Cast for a Greenlight: Randall Emmett (The Irishman, Power), Caroline Couret-Delegue, Film Seekers, Jenny Jue, Downtown Casting, Laura Rister, Untitled Entertainment.

Pandemic Production Challenges & Solutions: Richard Botto, Stage 32Chris Moore, Producer (Manchester by the Sea and Promised Land)Celine Rattray, Maven Pictures, and Jennifer Westin, MarVista Entertainment.

What’s Working in the Pre-Sales MarketplaceKimberly Fox, MadRiver International, Jeffrey Greenstein, Millennium Media, Inc., Jeremy Kay, Screen International, and Nat McCormick, The Exchange.

The Black List Can Change Everything About How You Find Future Projects with The Black List’s Franklin Leonard and Terry Huang,

A Conversation with Lloyd Kaufman: Make Your Own Damn Movie in 60 Minutes or Less!

Who Did I Offend Now? Cultural Competency in Storytelling presented in partnership with the NAACP:  Kyle Bowser, NAACP, Darnell HuntUCLA, and Brittany A. Little, Universal Television.

 U.S. Film Incentives: From Application to Audit presented by Media Services Payroll Presentation:
Nicole Ameln
North Star Incentives, Inc., David Benavente, Cast & Crew Entertainment Services, David Brauer, Brauer & Co., PC, Marco Cordova, Monarch Private Capital, Ryan Broussard, Media Services Payroll,

Friday, November 12

Working with Sales Agents: Tamara Birkemoe, Foresight Unlimited, Clay Epstein, Film Mode Entertainment, and Jordan Yale Levine, Yale Productions.

Keep Calm and Carry On Filming in partnership with the British Film Institute (BFI:) Adrian Wootton, Film London and the British Film CommissionAnna Mansi, British Film Institute, Julia Oh, Film4, and Alison Thompson, Cornerstone Films.

Deciphering Streaming Models & the Path to VOD Distribution: Audrey Delaney Blue Fox Entertainment, Bruce Eisen, Digital Advisors Linda Nelson, Indie Rights, Lise Romanoff, Vision Films, and James Schamus, Symbolic Exchange.

Standing Out in the Streaming Game – What Platforms and Audiences Want: Scilla Andreen, IndieFlix, Cameron DouglasFandangoNOW, and Erick Opeka, Cinedigm Digital Networks.

Distributing & Monetizing Feature Documentaries: Anna Godas, DogWoof, Gregg Goldstein, Variety, Kevin Iwashina, Endeavor Content, John Von Thaden, Magnolia Pictures, Krista Wegener, Participant Media.

Navigating Hollywood During COVID-19 : How To Find Success For Your Project During A Global Pandemic in partnership with the African-American Film Critics Association (AAFCA): Jen Barrett, Creative Shop FacebookMegan ColliganIMAX Entertainment and IMAX Corp, Malik Ducard, YouTube, Mike Jackson, Lifted Film Co., and Gil L. Robertson IV, African-American Film Critics Association (AAFCA).

Everything You Imagine In One Country: Colombia: Catalina PortoCaracol TV

Casting Global Talent: Who do Latinx Audiences Want to See? in partnership with the National Association of Latino Independent Producers (NALIP): Christopher Acebo, Broken English Productions, Aaron Ashford, Pantelion Films, Liliana Espinoza, NALIP, Carla Hool, Casting Director.

For more information and registration, please visit americanfilmmarket.com.

About the American Film Market® (AFM®)
The AFM is the most efficient film acquisition, development, and networking event in the world. More than US$1 billion in production and distribution deals are closed every year — on both completed films and those in every stage of development and production. Over five days in November, 7,000+ professionals from 70+ countries access the entire global catalog of available films and projects, attend world-class conferences, and connect with decision-makers. The AFM is produced by the Independent Film & Television Alliance®.

(Press release provided by Jennifer Garnick |VP, Communications Independent Film & Television Alliance)

AFI FEST FILM REVIEW: Wander Darkly (Tara Miele, 2020)

Posted and reviewed by Larry Gleeson during the virtual 2020 AFI FEST presented by Audi.

Thriller/Drama Wander Darkly, a Lionsgate production, written and directed by Tara Miele, and starring Sienna Miller as Adrienne and Diego Luna as Matteo, is a surreal journey into conflict resolution between a young couple following a traumatic car accident. In a very non-linear approach, the couple relives the past through the duality of their shared moments including fond memories from the initial courtship through the truths of the present as they attempt to rediscover the love that binds them together as they face an uncertain future.

The film opens with solemn non-diegetic music as introductory titles roll. An aerial tracking “god shot”  follows a car traveling down a nightscape city street that could pass for West Los Angeles. An interior shot of the moving vehicle reveals a young couple with a newborn in a heated exchange. Tension is in the air. Dominance and control. Neon lights flash giving an illusion of a video game. Mention of splitting up. Then a massive collision.

From here mise-en-scene and cinematography get very interesting as time becomes fluid with death and out-of-body astral planing. Carolina Costas creates this fluid time continuum effect through various camera angles, movements, and lens choices. Imagine Christopher Nolan’s Inception cinematography and mise-en-scene where up is down and down is up as our lead characters are passing in and out of linear time going forward and back revisiting critical moments in their relationship trying to explain to one another what each was experiencing in those moments. I’m thinking Ghost (1990) meets Before Sunrise.

In the Q & A following the film led by AFI Programmer Claudia Puig,  Miele revealed the impetus for the film came from her life experience of being in a traumatic car accident with her husband. The experience changed her perspective on mortality and the adrenaline-fueled lifestyle she led. Sienna Miller also participated and shared Adrienne was one of her most challenging roles as an actor due to numerous emotional arcs, beats, and emotional u-turns. Miller and Miele seemed to both agree on the success of the film hinged on how surreal her character could be. In addition, Wander Darkly was shot in Los Angeles and Miele really wanted the story to be an LA story about an interracial couple. Producer Monica Levinson brought some of her surreal magic to the production set with the inclusion of dolphins!

On its most basic level, Wander Darkly is a relationship film challenging boundaries while seeking the answer for continuity. Miller in a tour de force performance crushes it as Adrienne pulling out all the emotional stops exploring grief, joy, and love. Luna is no slouch as Matteo either. Steadfast and earnest as he explains his flighty behavior with axioms of “for better or worse,” and “you have to take the good with the bad.” As contentious as the relationship is/was, watching the two come to a resolution was emotionally moving and deeply satisfying to watch. The sound design by Frank Gates and the music by Alex Weston was more than complementary. They were an integral part of the film’s narrative as were the dolphins.

Wander Darkly is as good a film as I’ve seen this year and is scheduled to be in select theaters, on digital, and on-demand on December 11th. Check it out! You’ll be glad you did!

AFI FEST FILM REVIEW: Belushi (R.J. Cutler, 2020)

Posted and reviewed by Larry Gleeson during the virtual 2020 AFI FEST presented by Audi.

Belushi, from Showtime Documentary Films, directed by award-winning, filmmaker R.J. Cutler, reveals the complicated, singular, and too-short life of a beloved American icon who helped change American culture and comedy, John Belushi, a once-in-a-generation talent who captured the hearts and funny-bones of audiences around the world. From his early years growing up in Wheaton, Illinois, Belushi showed an extraordinary talent for comedy and music. But, it was a visit to the Second City theater in Chicago where Belushi established himself and from that moment on he became an unstoppable and pioneering force in the comedy world. His audacious rendition of Joe Cocker singing the Beatles “With A Little Help From My Friends,” proved to be the star shot launching pad. Cutler utilizes still photos, archival footage, home videos, animation, and telling letters from John to his high school sweetheart girlfriend and later wife, Judy, that paint a picture of Belushi’s passion, love and humanly struggles.

Never one to take a back seat, Belushi found himself behind the fame and popularity of Chevy Chase and SNL’s Weekend Update. Belushi pushed boundaries and raised the ire of SNL creator and producer Lorne Michaels in advocating for his performance routines. At SNL Belushi created some of the most-talked-about and memorable characters of all time. His Olympic gold-medal-winning breakfast of champions – coffee, cigarettes, and mini chocolate donuts – and his spot-on imitation of Hall of Fame Rock and Roll icon, Joe Cocker.  Seemingly, everyone was caught by surprise when Cocker was the musical guest on SNL and Belushi came on stage and the two performed a stunning rendition of “Feelin’ alright.”

 

While remaining a cast member of SNL, Belushi participated in the filming of Animal House as the lovable, disrupter “Bluto,” and managed to form a stellar band, The Blues Brothers.  To say John Belushi had arrived would be an understatement as was on the #1 television show (SNL), had the #1 comedy in movie history (Animal House), and the #1 record album (Blues Brothers Soundtrack) in the world. In addition, Belushi seemed to demand respect for his work and he also seemed to covet respect as a person. He and fellow SNL cast member, Dan Ackroyd, would eventually leave SNL and create two Blues Brothers films together. The Blues Brothers (1980) has become a cult classic.

Belushi’s insatiable drive for success and fame kept the candle burning at both ends. When his acting attempts in 1941, Neighbors, and Continental Divide failed to provide him the accolades of The Blues Brothers and Animal House, Belushi sought consolation and creativity in dark habits as he continually pushed himself for greatness. As a performer, John Belushi grasped the importance of developing and recreating himself on stage and felt a high degree of compulsion to do this on the big screen. Belushi’s ambitious drive and need for approval reached its limits on March 5, 1982, at the hotel Chateau Marmont in West Hollywood. Belushi was found alone, not breathing, and unresponsive. The coroner’s report stated the cause of death was “acute cocaine and heroin intoxication.”

Cutler captures what John Belushi was as a performer and scratches the surface of who Belushi was as a person. Told linearly using previously unheard audiotapes, the film also examines Belushi’s life in the words of his collaborators, friends, and family, including Dan Aykroyd, Jim Belushi, Penny Marshall, Lorne Michaels, Carrie Fisher, Chevy Chase, Harold Ramis, Jane Curtin, Ivan Reitman and his wife, Judy Belushi. As much as I enjoyed experiencing his comedic genius again, there is more to John Belushi than what appears in this screening of Belushi.  Yet, Cutler does an excellent job of creating a framework of understanding some of the comedic legend’s motivation and unmet needs with a well-researched and documented biographical treatment. Belushi is scheduled to launch on November 22, 2020, on Showtime. Highly recommended.

Sundance Institute Announces Seven New Members of Board of Trustees

Posted by Larry Gleeson

For Immediate Release

The Institute Continues to Shape Board Leadership for Future

Los Angeles — The nonprofit Sundance Institute today announced the newly appointed and recent additions to the Institute’s Board of Trustees. Kimberlé Crenshaw, Ann Lewnes, Wonya Lucas join the board alongside Uzodinma Iweala, Amanda Kelso, William Plapinger, and Junaid Sarieddeen who joined over the last year. Together they add to the business, cultural, and philanthropic leaders who guide and steer the entire organization and also act in an advisory capacity. The distinguished new Trustees bring invaluable experience and will work closely with Board Chair Pat Mitchell and Executive Director Keri Putnam.

“We are so grateful to welcome the expertise and unique perspectives of Kimberlé, Uzodinma, Amanda, Ann, Bill, and Junaid to Sundance as we move forward in this challenging time,” said Pat Mitchell. “Our board possesses the right skills, a broad range of talents and a high level of commitment to our founding values and ethics to guide the organization’s mission-oriented work in supporting emerging artists around the world and connecting audiences to their stories.”

They join current members on the Institute’s Board: Robert Redford, President & Founder; Pat Mitchell, Chair; Jeanne Donovan Fisher, Vice Chair; Ebs Burnough, Vice Chair; Sean Bailey, Ritesh Batra, Jason Blum,  Lisa-Michele Church, Kenneth Cole, Pascal Desroches, Fred Dust, Philipp Engelhorn, Caterina Fake, Robert J. Frankenberg, Donna Gruneich, Cindy Harrell Horn, Charles D. King, Lisa Kron, Lyn Davis Lear, Gigi Pritzker, Alejandro Ramírez Magaña, Amy Redford, Geoffrey K. Sands, Nadine Schiff-Rosen, and Lynette Wallworth.

Sundance Institute regularly evolves its Board, evaluating its composition to ensure it includes the skills and perspective necessary to help guide the organization as individual board member terms expire. The Institute’s Board has typically included between 24-28 members, these latest additions represent a slight growth for the Board. With three board members terms concluding, and additions over the last year, the Institute is now composed of a 32-person Board, 10 of whose members self-identify as BIPOC and six of whom self-identify as Black. The Board is 50% men and 50% women.

The new members of Sundance Institute’s Board of Trustees are:

Kimberlé Crenshaw is the Co-Founder and Executive Director of the African American Policy Forum, and the founder and Executive Director of the Center for Intersectionality and Social Policy Studies at Columbia Law School. She is the Promise Institute Professor at UCLA Law School and the Isidor and Seville Sulzbacher Professor at Columbia Law School. She is popularly known for her development of “intersectionality,” “Critical Race Theory,” and the #SayHerName Campaign, and is the host of the podcast Intersectionality Matters!, a columnist for The New Republic, and the moderator of the widely impactful webinar series Under The Blacklight: The Intersectional Vulnerabilities that the Twin Pandemics Lay Bare. She is one of the most cited scholars in the history of the law, and was named Ms. magazine’s “No. 1 Most Inspiring Feminist,” honored as one of the ten most important thinkers in the world by Prospect Magazine, and included in Ebony’s “Power 100” issue.

Her groundbreaking work on “intersectionality” has traveled globally and was influential in shaping the South African Equality Clause. She has been a Visiting Professor at the Sorbonne and University of Paris; Centennial Professor at The London School of Economics; Fellow at the Center for Advanced Studies in the Behavioral Sciences at Stanford University; and taught at universities in South Africa, Brazil, and Italy. She received her J.D. from Harvard, L.L.M. from University of Wisconsin, and B.A. from Cornell University, and sits on the boards of Sundance, VDay, and the Algorithmic Justice League.

Uzodinma Iweala is an award-winning writer, filmmaker, and medical doctor. As the CEO of The Africa Center, he is dedicated to promoting a new narrative about Africa and is Diaspora. Uzodinma was the CEO, Editor-In-Chief, and co-Founder of Ventures Africa magazine, a publication that covers the evolving business, policy, culture, and innovation spaces in Africa. His books include Beasts of No Nation, a novel released in 2005 to critical acclaim and adapted into a major motion picture; Our Kind of People, a non-fiction account of HIV/AIDS in Nigeria released in 2012; and Speak No Evil (2018), a novel about a queer first-generation Nigerian-American teen living in Washington, D.C. His short stories and essays have appeared in numerous publications like The New York Times Magazine, Vanity Fair and  The Paris Review among others. Uzodinma was also the founding CEO of the Private Sector Health Alliance of Nigeria, an organization that promotes private sector investment in health services and health innovation in Nigeria. He sits on the boards of the Sundance Institute, The International Rescue Committee and the African Development Bank’s Presidential Youth Advisory Group. A graduate of Harvard University and the Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons and a Fellow of The Radcliffe Institute at Harvard University, he lives in Brooklyn, New York.

Amanda Kelso is passionate about technology and storytelling, and how together they can shape communities. She has spent the last 25 years serving as a creative communications and brand leader for global tech companies as well as lending her skills to non-profit organizations and startups. Amanda’s tenure includes helping to foster and oversee the stewardship of Instagram’s community of more than one billion people, serving as the Managing Director of Google Creative Lab, and providing creative digital leadership at Goodby Silverstein & Partners and West Ventures. While the majority of her career has been working in a creative capacity in the technology sector, early in her career she worked on television productions including Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood. Amanda holds a BA in Film from Columbia College at Columbia University and is an incoming DCI Fellow at Stanford University.

As an advocate for independent storytellers, in addition to being a trustee of the Sundance Institute, Amanda is also a member of the Producers Guild of America’s New Media Council, and a judge for the International Academy of Digital Arts and Sciences. Work she has produced has been recognized by Cannes Lions Festival of Creativity, SXSW, D&AD, Clios, One Show, The Jim Henson Technology Honor, and Communication Arts. Amanda recently co-published a public meditations project encouraging people to take time out of their busy days to meditate.

Ann Lewnes is Executive Vice President and Chief Marketing Officer of Adobe, a position she has held for over a decade. Under her leadership, the Adobe brand has become synonymous with creativity, digital marketing and the design and development of transformative digital experiences. In addition to its consistent focus on creativity, Adobe’s marketing organization pioneered the shift to digital – deploying advanced digital marketing technology, establishing an insight-driven culture, and setting a template for marketing’s impact on business. Prior to Adobe, Ann spent 20 years building the iconic Intel Inside brand as VP of Marketing. Forbes has recognized her as one of the top CMOs in the world, Ad Age has named her one of The Creativity 50 and she was inducted into the American Marketing Association’s Hall of Fame in 2019. Ann received her B.A. in Political Science and Journalism from Lehigh University. She currently serves on the board of Mattel and is an active participant in the Sundance Catalyst program. Believing everyone has a story to tell, Ann is a strong advocate for empowering diverse creators, including women, youth and other under-represented groups.

Wonya Lucas is president and chief executive officer of Crown Media Family Networks. Lucas oversees the company’s portfolio of entertainment brands, including linear networks Hallmark Channel, Hallmark Movies & Mysteries, and Hallmark Drama; and subscription video on demand service Hallmark Movies Now. Lucas is based in the company’s Studio City office and reports to Mike Perry, president and chief executive officer of Hallmark Cards, Inc.

Formerly, Lucas was president and chief executive officer of Public Broadcasting Atlanta, where she oversaw Atlanta’s NPR (WABE) and PBS (ATL PBA) stations. Previously, she was president and chief executive officer of TV One. Prior to joining TV One, Lucas held several positions at Discovery Communications, including executive vice president and chief operating officer for Discovery Channel and Science Channel, and global chief marketing officer, which entailed oversight of marketing in 210 countries.

Before joining Discovery Communications, Lucas served as general manager and executive vice president of The Weather Channel Networks with responsibility for corporate strategy and development and strategic marketing for The Weather Channel and . Previously, she spent eight years at Turner with roles including senior vice president of strategic marketing for CNN Worldwide; vice president of business operations and network development for Turner Entertainment; and vice president of entertainment marketing for TNT. Lucas also spent several years in brand management for The Coca-Cola Company and Clorox.

Lucas received an MBA in Finance and Marketing from Wharton and BS Industrial Engineering from Georgia Tech.

William Plapinger was a partner for almost three decades (and is now Senior Counsel) at the global law firm Sullivan & Cromwell LLP, and has dedicated most of his time since 2012 to the not-for-profit sector, primarily education, as well as conservation and the arts.

Plapinger’s legal practice focused on corporate finance and M&A in more than 30 countries, with particular emphasis on large, complex, financial transactions, many of which were the first, largest or most significant of their kind. He was resident in the firm’s London office for 25 years, and had both firm-wide and regional management responsibilities, including as managing partner of that office, coordinator of the firm’s European offices, and a member of the firm’s Managing Partners Committee.

In the education sector, he is a member of the boards of directors of The Posse Foundation and Global Citizen Year, and formerly was the chair of the board of trustees of Vassar College for 12 years, a Commissioner on the U.S.-U.K. Fulbright Commission, a trustee of the American School in London, and a director of the Conference of Board Chairs of Independent Liberal Arts Colleges. Over the last several years, he has worked with partners on an innovative venture to provide affordable financing to African students at the world’s leading universities.

In the conservation sector, he is a member of the board of directors of Sheriff’s Meadow Foundation, the largest private land trust on Martha’s Vineyard, MA, and in the arts sector, in addition to being a member of the board of trustees of the Sundance Institute, he was a co-founder and member of the board of directors of the American Friends of the British Museum.

Plapinger is a graduate of Vassar College and New York University School of Law, attended Westfield College (University of London), and was a Fellow in 2013 and 2014 in the Advanced Leadership Initiative at Harvard University. He and his wife of almost 40 years, Cassie Murray, split their time between Martha’s Vineyard and New York City, and have three grown children.

Junaid Sarieddeen is a theatre actor, director, dramaturge, and a founding member of Beirut-based Zoukak Theatre Company (2006). He has directed several theatre plays with Zoukak and other artists including, “Ish Ibka…” (2007), “Lucena / Obedience Training” (2013), “Heavens” (2014), “The Jokers” (2017), and “36 Abbas street, Haifa” (2017). As a dramaturge, Junaid worked on several theatre and dance performances, including “Mahalli” (2012), “Fatmeh” (2014), “Leila’s Death” (2015), “May he rise…” (2017) and “NIGHT” (2019), and performed in more than 20 productions in the past fourteen years, touring in multiple cities and festivals around the world. He is a trainer on the use of theatre in various educational, social, and psychosocial contexts, and since 2016, a fellow artist of the Sundance Theatre Program where he took part in various Theatre Labs, both as a director and dramaturge in the USA and the MENA region.

Establishing Zoukak has provided Junaid a broad experience in art direction, curating cultural events and festivals, in addition to the knowledge in the management of non-governmental and cultural associations. He was a member of several initiatives focusing on cultural policies and other social and cultural issues in Lebanon including, censorship, public space, cultural heritage, and history.

For its artistic and social engagement, Zoukak received the Ibsen Scholarship award (2012), the Anna Lindh Foundation’s Euro-med Dialogue Award for social resilience and creativity (2014), the Honorary Citizenship of the City of Palermo (2017), the Praemium Imperial Award for Young Artists from the Japan Arts Association (2017), the Chirac Foundation Award of Culture for Peace (2017) and the Ellen Stewart International Award (2018).

Junaid holds a BA in Theatre and a BA in Philosophy from the Lebanese University. At present, he is pursuing his Masters at the Saint Joseph University in Beirut.

Sundance Institute
As a champion and curator of independent stories for the stage and screen, the nonprofit Sundance Institute provides and preserves the space for artists in film, theatre, film composing, and digital media to create and thrive. Founded in 1981 by Robert Redford, the Institute’s signature Labs, granting, and mentorship programs which are dedicated to developing new work and take place throughout the year in the U.S. and internationally, are supported largely through contributed revenue. Sundance Co//ab, a digital community platform, brings artists together to learn from each other and Sundance Advisors and connect in a creative space, developing and sharing works in progress. The Sundance Film Festival and other public programs connect audiences and artists to ignite new ideas, discover original voices, and build a community dedicated to independent storytelling. Sundance Institute has supported such projects as Clemency, Never Rarely Sometimes Always, Zola, On The Record, Boys State, The Farewell, Honeyland, One Child Nation, The Souvenir, The Infiltrators, Sorry to Bother You, Won’t You Be My Neighbor?, Hereditary, Call Me By Your Name, Get Out, The Big Sick, Mudbound, Fruitvale Station, City So Real, Top of the Lake, Between the World & Me, Wild Goose Dreams and Fun Home. Join Sundance Institute on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and YouTube.

(Press release provided by Sundance Media Relations Office)

 

AFI FEST 2020 CAPSULE REVIEW: Uncle Frank (Alan Ball, 2020)

Posted and viewed by Larry Gleeson during AFI FEST 2020 presented by AUDI.

Uncle Frank, an Amazon Original Film, starring Paul Bettany, Sophia Lillis, Peter Macdissi, Steve Zahn, and Stephen Root (Office Space), and directed by Alan Ball, tells the story of a young, rural South Carolinian woman, Beth, (Sophia Lillis) a precocious spirit with a connection to her rarely seen Uncle Frank (Bettany).

Uncle Frank, Frank Bledsoe, portrayed by Paul Bettany, is a dashing figure seemingly dismissed at home and who lives and teaches Literature (18th Century Women Poets) at New York University (NYU). When it comes time for Beth to go to college, she receives a scholarship to attend NYU. While there she learns of her Uncle Frank’s worldly ways (he’s a sober pot smoker) including his relationship with a gay Saudi man, “Wally” Walid.

When a death in the family occurs, Beth and Uncle Frank embark on a road trip back to South Carolina delving into deep interpersonal dialogue on sexuality and death before being unexpectedly joined by Wally. Along the rest of the way, Beth is exposed to bigotry, homophobia, and a warm, loving relationship. Once she and Uncle Frank are back in small-town, rural Creekville, South Carolina, the past reveals itself, and moments for self-reflection and overcoming imposed beliefs come to pass.

Uncle Frank, a character-driven drama, is quite entertaining and could easily pass for a period piece, much like Green Book, with its costuming by Megan Stark Evans,  production design by Darcy C Scanlan, its superb cinematography by Khalid Mohtaseb, and with the layered narrative (screenwriting, Alan Ball) dealing with family, remorse, death, loss, same-sex relationships, religion, as well as social norms and beliefs in the Deep South.

But it was the cast, in my opinion, that brought the film’s narrative and its characters to life allowing for the suspension of disbelief. Steve Zahn played Uncle Frank’s respectful and admiring younger brother convincingly. He accepts his older brother’s way of life. Stephen Root delivers a powerful, domineering performance as the family’s unequivocal patriarch with the staunchest of beliefs, Daddy Mac. Peter Macdissi delivers a warm, loving, and heartfelt performance as Uncle Frank’s partner, “Wally” Walid, a Saudi man risking everything to be in a relationship with Frank but not willing to give up everything when Frank drinks again. In addition, Macdissi provides excellent timing with comedic relief at several pivotal moments. Sophia Lillis shines as Beth in an understated performance ala in a Ryan Gosling way. Lillis delivers an emphatically as small-town, ridiculed, Beth who blossoms into a smart, intelligent, beautiful woman standing boldly in her truth. And, Paul Bettany brings a much-needed gravitas to the role of “Uncle Frank” Frank Bledsoe.

Seeing Bettany cast had a lot to do with my viewing selection of Uncle Frank. And, he doesn’t disappoint as he carries the heaviness, the emotional weight, of Uncle Frank. My hat’s off to Casting Director, Avy Kaufman (Brokeback Mountain). Bravo! Uncle Frank is scheduled for a U.S. release (internet) on November 25th, 2020, and is a beautiful, entertaining film. Very warmly recommended viewing!

 

 

AFI FEST 2020 FILM REVIEW: Citizen Penn (Don Hardy, 2020)

Posted and reviewed by Larry Gleeson during the 2020 AFI FEST presented by Audi.

Citizen Penn, written and directed by Don Hardy, provides a glimpse into Actor/producer/writer/director/humanitarian Sean Penn. Often characterized and stereotyped by early-career exploits of consistently making news headlines for punching cameramen, his political viewpoints, and marrying the world’s most recognizable pop star of the time, Madonna, Penn has diligently changed his image through extensive efforts to aid assistance to his fellow ‘man’ in war-torn, disaster laden, disaffected countries beginning in 2002 with the war in Iraq right up to the current COVID-19-infected United States, Penn’s home country. Hardy has amassed numerous photographs, direct interviews, and archival news footage, documenting the devastation and suffering along with footage from one camera operated by a Haitian police officer who accompanied Penn at all times following the country’s 2010 earthquake. Penn was adamant about his efforts not being used for overt publicity but allowed the official to have and operate a camera at his own discretion.

In 2002, Penn’s efforts in Iraq were viewed disdainfully as just another celebrity seeking attention or the limelight to jumpstart a flailing career. As noted, Penn had some off-screen issues while married to Madonna. Yet, in 2001 he received an Oscar nomination for Best Actor in a Leading Role for his portrayal of Sam Dawson in I Am Sam and in 2003 Penn took home the Oscar for Best Actor in a Leading Role for his portrayal of Jimmy Markum in Mystic River. Also, in 2009 Penn took home his second Oscar for his portrayal of Harvey Milk, in Gus Van Sant’s Milk, a dramatic biographical portrayal of California gay rights activist, Harvey Milk, who became the first openly gay elected official. According to IMDb, Penn has received 117 award nominations along with 74 wins from a myriad of film groups and associations.

Nevertheless, when the massive 7.0 earthquake hit the country of Haiti killing 250,000, injuring another 300,000, and displacing nearly 1,500,000 people, and Penn landed on the ground to render assistance, he was met with sideways glances and once again was looked upon as a celebrity seeking attention. And, according to Penn’s own words in Citizen Penn, he had initially landed to simply distribute 14,000 Chinese water filtration kits and 350,000 doses of ketamine and morphine pain medicines he had gotten from Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez after seeing the suffering of the Haitian people on television news coverage. Penn had seen the poor suffering in Venezuela and supported Chavez’s revolutionary efforts to provide relief to the suffering and has been widely criticized by US government officials.  Still, when a celebrity lands a helicopter in a war zone or declared disaster area, news cameras seem to follow. Penn was on CNN being questioned what he was doing in Haiti and why he specifically felt he could help the Haitian people?

Penn’s medicinal relief needed refrigeration and only one location of Port au Prince could effectively store the needed stockpile. As his group, soon thereafter formally known as J/P HRO, settled into an abandoned, hidden location for the night, Penn was surprised the next morning to discover a tent city of tens of thousands (initially 30,000) of dislocated Haitians on what once was a golf course.  Unlike other celebrities who dipped in and out of Haiti, Penn stayed on the ground for several months returning often guiding not only relief efforts but also debris and gravel removal. As his organizational efforts expanded, Penn enticed international aid worker, Ann Lee, to become the group’s leader. A once markedly different characteristic of the Haitians, according to Penn, was their willingness and zeal in being a core component of the recovery process.

As Lee accepted the helm, she and Penn altered their mission and started CORE (Community Organized Relief Effort) primarily from their outcomes and experience during the Haiti mission. The basic premise learned from the willingness of the younger Haitians, is to provide experiential training to younger individuals in areas affected and predisposed to being affected by disasters, so their communities are able to respond and recover quickly during states of emergency. Most recently, CORE has responded to COVID in providing 1.3 million tests to low-income communities in the Greater Los Angeles area. As wonderful a humanitarian as Penn and Lee are, the cost of undertaking relief efforts and providing community support is overwhelming. In order to get people in crisis what they need for basic survival, Penn began hosting an annual gala raising several million dollars from a limited guest list. Archival footage of Penn’s growing frustration over the years is on full display as archival from successive years is shown.

I’ve long been a fan of Sean Penn’s as an actor beginning with his Mick O’Brien role in the 1983 Bad Boys (post-Jeff Spicoli, Fast Times at Ridgemont High) and I was semi-aware of his Haiti relief efforts in 2010, just not to such an extent. Citizen Penn was a great way to catch up. Highly recommended.