Tag Archives: AFI Interview

The AFI FEST Interview: ONE WEEK AND A DAY Director Asaph Polonsky (AFI Class of 2012)

For Eyal and Vicky, it is the end of Shiva, the seven-day Jewish mourning ritual when a bereaved family opens their home to visitors. Grieving the death of their 25-year-old son, the couple tries to return to their lives in different ways. Vicky is eager to get back to teaching her elementary school students, while Eyal tries to make use of his son’s remaining medical marijuana from hospice. Unable to roll a joint, Eyal enlists the help of their neighbor’s son, a stoner sushi deliverer named Zooler. Dentist appointments, kittens, annoying nymphomaniac neighbors, ping pong and air guitar are all fodder in Israeli-American filmmaker and AFI alum Asaph Polonsky’s (Class of 2012) feature debut. ONE WEEK AND A DAY is a dramedy about the unimaginable yet common grief of two surviving parents. Wry and moving but decidedly unsentimental, it finds absurdity in life after death.

AFI spoke to Asaph Polonsky about the film, screening in the New Auteurs section of AFI FEST 2016.

AFI: Why did you choose comedy as the genre to tell this story about grief?screen-shot-2016-10-27-at-8-01-44-am

Asaph Polonsky: The idea for the film first came to mind (and heart) when the girlfriend of a good friend of mine passed away. We were a bit younger and she was sick for a long time. It was a surprise when it happened, and he called to tell me that she had died just a few hours ago. With a few other friends I went over to his place. We were sitting there, with nothing to say until someone asked: “Do you still have any of her medicinal weed?” Into such a tragic moment came a really funny one. Just the question itself made us all feel uncomfortable, but also released some tension.

That was the first thought of it. Also, I love comedies and I thought that dealing with such a tragic story, it should be told in a humorous way; there are tons of absurd moments in this kind of situation and it makes the drama more powerful when you are allowed to laugh.

AFI: How did this idea come to you?

AP: When my aunt was sick and passed away I noticed how everyone [dealt] with it differently, there’s no right or wrong way and it is all very subtle; I wanted to investigate that. In the film, they are both dealing but not dealing. Vicky, the mom, on the surface is dealing, but inside she is broken and has no clue how to move forward, despite trying to show otherwise.


AFI: Your lead actor Shai Avivi is a professional comedian. What did he bring to the character of Eyal that surprised you?

AP: Many think that the role of Eyal was written for Shai, but that is completely the opposite. Once I met him for coffee and got to know him and not just his persona, I felt that he would not only be able to bring what was on the page, but also make it his own. Because Shai is naturally funny, we never had to play and push the humor but just had him in the moment. It’s amazing what he can do with a few crumbs on a table, a shoe and a bowl. You can’t write that stuff.

AFI: A great strength of the film is that there are a number of instances in which your characters — who are in denial to a certain extent, or at least trying to forget the pain of losing a son — say one thing while clearly feeling (or even doing) another. Can you discuss how you handled this as both the screenwriter and director?

AP: I tried to stay true to the idea that it’s about people in denial. They have been living in pain for a long time, so why do they need to talk about it and confront it if they don’t have to? The pain and loss is in every frame and moment, but they are just trying to keep head above water and live. So it was all about giving them clear actions to get through the scene. The script was sparse, without flashy descriptions, just actions and dialogue that were needed. The casting process was long so by the time the actors got the roles, they knew who they were. I only did one blocking rehearsal (on location) prior to the shoot, and had them spend as much time as possible together.

Free tickets to ONE WEEK AND A DAY will be available on AFI.com beginning November 1.


(Source: http://www.blog.afi.com)

The AFI FEST Interview: PREVENGE Director Alice Lowe

British comedy actress Alice Lowe makes her feature directorial debut with this pitch-black comedic tale of a pregnant woman whose fetus has a lust for killing. Seven months pregnant, Ruth receives murderous instructions from her misanthropic unborn baby, who has a vendetta against society for leaving her fatherless. Coached by the fetus, Ruth lures in unsuspecting victims by using her pregnancy as a cloak of innocence. Who would suspect a mother-to-be of homicide? Commanding a supporting cast of fantastic British actors, Lowe, a triple threat here in the roles of director, writer and actor, shines as Ruth. Lowe even lent some real life inspiration to the part, as she herself was pregnant during the film’s shoot. PREVENGE is a macabre comedy and entertaining revenge  that could have only come from the hormone-influenced mind of a pregnant woman.

AFI talked to Lowe about the film, screening as part of AFI FEST 2016’s Midnight section.screen-shot-2016-10-26-at-9-37-24-am

AFI: You wrote, directed and acted in the film while you were pregnant. That must have been quite an experience.

Alice Lowe: I actually was incredibly lucky that I had a very healthy, happy pregnancy. I think I may have exorcised any fears I had through making the film. I had huge amounts of energy, which I think was hormonal. I only got very weary by the time we had finished filming, right at the end of the pregnancy.  During the shoot, I felt very calm and relaxed. I just felt ecstatic that I was getting to have my cake and eat it — have a baby and direct a film. Every day was a joy. I think any filmmaker itching to make a film for many years feels that way when they actually get to shoot. It’s a relief and cathartic. A bit like giving birth. All this stuff bursting to come out of you finally gets release!

In terms of the work, it felt very familiar to me. Low-budget film is my métier and has been for many years. I felt very at home. Sometimes I forgot I was pregnant and it would be the other actors or crew who would remind me. I think it was weirder for them to be doing stunts or nudity or kissing scenes with a pregnant director/actor than it was for me.


AFI: Were there any major surprises throughout shooting as a first-time feature director?

AL: Post-production was the biggest learning curve for me. Because that’s the side I see least of as an actress. By this time, I had a tiny baby in tow, too. What I really learned was the process you go through in carving out, dismantling and rebuilding the film. It’s really like you are getting to know the film and what it is. In some ways, the film has its own unique personality and you are just discovering it. It’s an exciting process. A bit like being someone who carves wood or cuts gems. You find which way the grain goes and what the best outcome of that grain will be; it tells you which way to go.

Sometimes, the footage is rough and wild and you’re trying to tame it. So you’re finding these lovely surprises and gems within the footage, and surprising ways it affects your emotion as the film plays out. I guess the thing that most surprised me was the audience liking the film. You have a weird idea for a film that is dark and perverse and personal and strange. And more people than you think actually get it. And laugh. And other reactions! I suppose that’s the joy of being a filmmaker, that something that was in your head has managed to be communicated to other people.

AFI: How did the premise of the screenplay come to you?

AL: I thought pregnancy was going to prevent me from working. I was actually really worried about it. But then I thought, “This is a perfect way of combatting that.”

I’d been thinking about revenge structures and themes for a while. I was never going to make a story about a pregnant woman who has a minor emotional dilemma about what color to paint the nursery. My bugbear as an actress is characters that are women first, and characters later. I was really sick of reading characters that are cut-and-paste mother characters. They’re always so bloody kind and self-sacrificial. What about their personalities and goals? Have they just disappeared when they’ve become mothers? Not on my watch, anyway.


AFI: Pregnancy and evil children often figure into horror films — but the tone isn’t usually comedic. Were you inspired by any films while making this one?

AL: I’m a big fan of horror that deals with human transgressional boundaries. Films like THE SHINING, DON’T LOOK NOW, CARRIE and ROSEMARY’S BABY all deal with very human drama, and that’s where the horror comes from. The supernatural is an invisible threat, but the human threat is real and tangible — parents trying to kill their children, bullying, husbands betraying their wives. And many of these films deal with liminal rites of passage — becoming a teenager, a parent.

So yes, I definitely wanted to make a film about becoming a mother, but perhaps from more of an insider’s view, a female viewpoint, too. For me, the comedy goes without saying, as I can’t help it. I think life is kind of a mixture of hilarity and horror anyway. It was important to have warmth and humor for you to get into Ruth’s interior. She is a real human with flaws who is in this absurd predicament. Otherwise she’s just a victim, or a heartless perpetrator. I think the humor helps you to feel for her. Perhaps even feel like her. I haven’t exactly made KNOCKED UP. The humor is pretty pitch black. I’d love to have just answered with, “yes, I was inspired by LOOK WHO’S TALKING TOO,” and just have left it at that. That would have put a cat amongst the pigeons. 

Free tickets for PREVENGE will be available on AFI.com beginning November 1.




The AFI DOCS Interview: TRAIN SURFERS Director Adrien Cothier

June 21, 2016

In Adrien Cothier’s short film TRAIN SURFERS, thrill-seeking young men tempt fate doing stunts on Mumbai’s high-speed trains. AFI spoke to director Adrien Cothier ahead of the film’s AFI DOCS premiere. He is a New York-based filmmaker who cut his teeth working on the set of Wes Anderson’s FANTASTIC MR. FOX.


Adrien Cothier on Twitter: “Very proud to have TRAIN SURFERS premiere at this year’s @AFIDOCS festival. <3 https://t.co/aeK67ooI4X&#8221;


What led you to documentary filmmaking?

My background is in narrative filmmaking and advertising. In both, I always try to recreate a certain reality whereas in documentaries, you have to use reality in order to create a narrative. This organic creative process led me to docs. There is definitely something pure about a documentary. The goal with TRAIN SURFERS was not to make a commercial film, clearly, but rather, to expose a certain truth about the world we live in.

What inspired you to tell this story?

I was finishing my first semester of grad school and had decided that I needed to get out of my comfort zone and explore a part of the world I had never seen. India seemed like a perfect mix of spiritual and adventurous journey. While I was researching where to go, I ended up on a viral video of a “train surfer” in Mumbai. I had never seen anything like it. It was a strange mix of absolute beauty and danger. I instantly called my friend and producer. I told him that if there’s a chance we can meet somebody like this, we had to document it, no matter the cost. That’s how it all started.

How did you find your subjects?

It wasn’t as hard as I expected it to be. I started researching local news stories of teenagers getting arrested for train-surfing. The more I accumulated information, the closer I came to understanding that this phenomenon happened in a few specific areas of Mumbai. Then, I hired a local translator in order to get in touch with the surfers in case we encountered them. After two days of waiting in train stations, we saw a teenager on the roof of a speeding train. We chased him down and convinced him to let us meet him again with his friends. The next day we went to visit him in his home.

What was a particular obstacle you faced while making the film?

Filming on the trains or outside the tracks is completely forbidden in India. I think this phobia came from the terrorist attacks in south Mumbai in 2008. Since then the police have been extremely weary, especially with tourists like myself. We had to hide the camera as much as we could and shoot without any permits. At the end, I think that our gorilla approach gave us incredible footage in which the audience can really feel taken on a forbidden ride in the world of the kids.

What do you want audiences to walk away with after screening your film?

I’d like them to realize that all around world, the exact same human dynamics are happening but under very different social circumstances. Whether in the rugged outskirts of Mumbai, these kids are in many ways behaving in the same way that New York kids would. In this way it’s a story about friendship and I’d like people to feel it. But I cannot deny that it’s also a story about how being trapped in a life of poverty with very few chances of changing your life and how this will impact the decisions you make as a young person.

Why do you think Washington, DC, is a valuable location to screen your film?

This doc is definitely not political but its intrinsic message deals with the notions of freedom, poverty and the pursuit of happiness, which to me are clear American values emanating from the declaration of independence displayed in DC.

TRAIN SURFERS plays before the feature film VISITOR’S DAY on Thursday, June 23 and Sunday, June 26. Buy tickets here.

(Source: American Film Institute Magazine/AFI Blog)