Open Projector Night Spotlight- D.M. Cunningham (OPN #26 People's Choice Award)

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D.M. Cunningham’s short film Unholy Blood is the most recent Open Projector Night Peoples' Choice Award Winner. We spoke with D.M. to learn more about his work, inspiration, and future projects.

For those who don’t know D.M. Cunningham. Tell us about yourself - give us a short bio.

I was born under a full moon on Friday the 13th. Actually that's not true but how fun if it was. My journey is so long and vast in this business that it's hard to squeeze into a few sentences. In a nutshell, I relocated to GR last year with my family from Los Angeles where I lived for 21 years. I'm a husband/father, filmmaker, mask maker, musician and horror nerd. I've produced, written, directed television, and feature films for companies like Walt Disney, Lionsgate, MTV, History Channel, etc. too long to keep going! I started out as a makeup fx artist and to this day I still create monsters with my makeup fx/producing partner for film.

What is your favorite film(s) and why?

Oh man, this list is ever-changing. But I would say the films you can always watch over and over would be your favorites. So some of those would be: Halloween (original), A Nightmare on Elm Street, Texas Chain Saw Massacre, Evil Dead, Valley Girl, Turbo Kid, Terminator, The Blob (1988), Friday 13th part 4 "Ted, where's the corkscrew?!" - how much space do we have to keep going??

Who and what inspires you?

My family inspires me to do better every day. I want to show my kids that if you work hard that you can achieve lots of cool things. My friend and mentor Wes Craven was a giant inspiration to me.

For those who haven’t seen Unholy Blood;  Tell us about itWhat’s the overall narrative?

Unholy Blood is a glimpse of a bigger story that I have planned and will hopefully make someday about nuns who fight monsters. This short was a chance to make a Tales from the Crypt style piece that would launch into a bigger universe.

Can you tell us a little bit about the evolution of Unholy Blood and how the film came about? Why did you want to tell this specific story?

The film came on the tail of two other shorts we had just completed as a group in Los Angeles. We had this momentum going and we really wanted to try to dip our toe into the nuns who kick-ass story world. As it evolved it lead to friends saying they want to help and before you know it, we had horror icons in it.

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For all the horror fans out there it doesn’t go unnoticed you have two horror icons acting in the film. Can you tell us how you got Heather Langenkamp and Bill Moseley in the film and what it was like working with them?

My producing partner Brian worked with Heather and her husband Dave Anderson who is an awesome FX artist in Los Angeles. Dave did the zombies in the Dawn of the Dead reboot, handled all the FX for American Horror Story and so on. And I believe Heather was introduced to Dave through Wes on New Nightmare. So it really came about because of personal relationships. Funny enough, we were discussing who we wanted for the male lead and we, of course, blurted out Bill Moseley. Not even a week later we are having lunch with Heather and she says, "You know who would be great in this role... Bill..." So we kinda knew that was the universe pointing us in that direction. It was a dream to work with Heather she's a real pro and was always up for stuff. She really wanted to be in the (spoiler alert!) creature suit so we thought why the hell not!

Tell us about your first related film experience, what hit you and made you want to pursue the world of film?

Star Wars made me want to make movies, Night of the Living Dead set me on the path of making scary movies. My mom took me to movies growing up in Colorado. I remember waiting in line for Star Wars for what seemed like days (probably like 15 minutes). As soon as that movie ended I wanted to see it again and again. NOTLD was the experience that really changed my course. I saw it on Shock Theater late Saturday night at a sleepover and my jaw came unhinged. I couldn't believe what I was seeing. I had to know who, what, how it was made. So that started me on the Fangoria trail and then I started teaching myself how to make monsters, write scripts, grab a camera, act, all that stuff. It was glorious and gloriously bad, but here I am, still making the creepy.

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What’s your next project?

The next project is a feature film that we are halfway through filming here in GR and out in the Lowell area. It's a horror film in the vein of movies like The Thing, Blob, Night of the Living Dead. We are really hoping to build upon the film community here and show everyone that there is great potential and talent in MI.

If you were granted a large budget and could make your dream film, what would it be?

I have a script I've written that I would love to make. It's very reminiscent of a DePalma movie. Outside of that, I've always wanted to make a movie based on the book Monster Blood Tattoo. It would be like a really dark Jim Henson movie. That would be a blast!

Can you provide any advice to aspiring filmmakers?

The greatest thing I have learned through a long journey of ups and downs trying to make my own movies, and it wasn't until recently that I truly figured out the best and simple way to tackle this universal "how do I do it".

DON'T write a movie with a cast of twenty people with big effects, multiple locations, etc. WHY? Because that costs A LOT of money. It seems obvious but you would be amazed at how many filmmakers have these scripts that they think are "low budget" and there is no way to make them unless a studio or a Netflix gives you money. And guess what, even the big guns have a hard time getting the okay and money to make movies. It's a struggle.

DO make a movie around the available assets that you have. Again, this seems obvious, but so many people to this day do not get this. If you have an uncle with a barn or an empty house that's just sitting there and he's totally fine for you to use it. Write a whole movie around that. You have two friends that can act? Write a movie about two friends in an empty house. Horror, drama, comedy, whatever you love. Keep it simple. You don't have access to lighting gear. Then it takes place during the day. Don't fret over filming on a RED camera or an Alexa. None of that matters. That only matters to other filmmakers. The best camera to use is the one you have access to. And let’s be honest, it's all about telling a good story, engaging your audience. Don't write a werewolf movie if you don't have access to anything like that. Keep it simple, make it quick, move on. Most of all don't strive for perfection. You'll never get a frame shot if you expect it to look like a big movie, smell like a big movie, etc. Lastly, enjoy the process of making the movie. It's not about red carpets and fame (as that comes and goes). Just breathe and enjoy every moment that you are there making something with friends. Because THAT is the thing.

Any words about Open Projector Night?

I've been really impressed with the way OPN is presented and the talent of filmmakers showing projects. It's such a great honor to be a part of it and I can't recommend it enough to aspiring filmmakers and established filmmakers alike. Take a chance, put it out there. You never know who you'll meet through it and what could come from it.


For more information on Open Projector Night and how to submit please visit: https://www.uica.org/open-projector-night

UICA Film Coordinator Nick Hartman's Golden Rules on How to Watch a Movie.

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If there's one thing that bothers me, it's how our culture views and considers movies. Instead of looking at them as an art form, most people tend to see them as nothing but entertainment. Sure, movies should be entertaining and should leave you moved, but they can also do much more than that. Film, like other forms of art, is a medium for self-reflection, a tool for conversation, and a way to help you understand the world around you. 

As Film Coordinator, I watch 20 plus films a week, and for me to get the best experience, I follow a set of seven golden rules. If you're looking to appreciate cinema on a deeper level, please consider these rules when you watch your next movie.


1) Put your phone away

Photo by  Leon Seibert  on  Unsplash

This should be common sense, but 76% of Americans spend time looking at their phones while watching a movie on their television. When viewing a film, you should give it 100% of your attention. Give it the consideration it needs so that you can understand and appreciate the experience in its entirety. Think of it as being in a conversation with a new friend. You've chosen this relationship. You're getting to know each other. You're building the foundations of shared experiences. Would you ask that new friend to share a story from their life with you, then - right in the middle of their narrative - pick up your phone and swipe through your Instafeed? Of course, you wouldn't. You're going to give your full undivided attention. That same attention should be directed toward the screen every time you watch a film. Let that beautiful glowing screen be your new friend. Enter into a relationship with the filmmaker and embrace their storytelling.

 And no, watching a film on your phone doesn't count. It's incredibly insulting to the filmmaker and everyone involved in the making of the movie. Do you really think you'll get the full cinematic experience of Stanley Kubrick's masterpiece "2001: A Space Odyssey" on a 5-inch screen? If you said yes, then you may just want to stop reading here.


2) Never hit the pause button, unless there's an emergency

This is an easy one to break, considering most like to have their favorite drinks and snacks next to them when watching a film. I get it, you had a little too much soda, and you have to hit pause to take a bio-break. However, I must warn you this can be profoundly disrupting to the film-watching experience for many reasons.

For one, it will interfere with the delivery of dialogue. The way an actor delivers their line captures the mood of the scene. Could you imagine hitting pause during Howard Beale's iconic "mad as hell" speech in The Network (1976)?

 It's not just disruptive to dialogue, either. Imagine hitting pause during Luke and Darth Vader's battle scene in Star Wars: Empire Strikes Back (1980), or the Russian roulette scene in The Deer Hunter (1979)?

 What I'm getting at is that while most of us agree we would never press pause during certain scenes of a movie, every line of dialogue, every action, and each moment is essential to the picture, and you should, simply, never hit pause.


3) Ask yourself the five W’s

Photo by  Evan Dennis  on  Unsplash

Photo by Evan Dennis on Unsplash

When you're watching a film, it's important to ask yourself who, what, when, where, and why. Asking yourself the five Ws will give you an understanding of your character(s), time-period, location, and the character's motives or goal. If you've ever taken a literature class, this is one of the primary elements they teach you, because to write a good story (or script) these are the five basic things a writer needs to ask themselves before that pen even hits that page. The same should go for the audience. If you want to understand the story, next time ask yourself the five Ws and fully engage in the movie.

For example, let's talk about Steven Spielberg's Schindlers List (1993) and the iconic "girl dressed in red" scene. Instead of just noticing the girl in red, ask yourself why the film is in black and white but she's dressed in red, who is this girl, what does she represent, what is going on around her, why is the camera closed in on Schlinder's face instead of a far shot, etc. Having these questions will help you see the bigger picture, and hopefully help you understand what the film is trying to say.


4) Be open minded

I believe one of the most important qualities a human being can carry is to understand that not everyone will have the same views and moral obligations that you have, and that's okay. There are nearly 8 billion people on this planet. Billions of people who come from all different walks of life, if you think every one of them shares the same views as you then you're just out of luck. Instead of being offended, open your mind and let cinema teach you the beauty of this world and all the different people that are in it.

Be open to films with subtitles and don't be the person that complains and says, "I came here to watch a movie, not read it." Some of the best cinematic works throughout history are subtitled and are, in fact, worth reading.

Finally, just because a film is in black and white doesn't mean it's old and boring.


5) Pay attention to detail.

sergi eisenstein, image from twitter.com

sergi eisenstein, image from twitter.com

When a movie is shot on film, it takes 24 frames per second. That's 24 still photos every second flashing before your eyes to create a moving image, and every one of those still-frames may hold valuable information.  

When you walk into an art gallery, and you take the time to appreciate a painting, you could spend well over an hour staring at every small detail of that painting, whether it's the type of paint they used, the colors, the subject matter, etc. The same goes for film, and I encourage you to take the time to pay attention to the small details filmmakers may hide in their frames.

For instance, a painter may use watercolor or acrylics as their choice of paint, but a filmmaker may choose a different film stock, whether it's 8mm, 16mm, 35mm, or digital. All these types of film have a different aesthetic look that can convey a different emotion. Think about when a filmmaker decides to use a black and white film compared to shooting in high definition color. The filmmaker makes these choices for a reason.

An artist may also hide messages in their work that can tap into a deeper subject. The same goes for film, and I can promise you filmmakers hide messages in their work that give a whole new meaning.

A great example of this would be Victor Flemings The Wizard of Oz (1939). On the surface, we see a farm girl in a magical land following a yellow brick road accompanied by her new-found friends. However, if you look deeper, the film has a much more profound message behind it. Now, there are multiple theories of what The Wizard of Oz truly represents, but one theory that stands above all is that it's an allegory for the American Populist movement that was a revolt by farmers that fought against the government for ignoring their issues, which led to crop failures, poor marketing, and lack of credit facilities.  

In theory, Dorothy represents the common-citizen, the Scarecrow is a stand-in for farmers, the Tin Man is the industrial worker, and the Cowardly Lion is a politician that's all talk and no action. They travel a yellow brick road to get to Emerald City which happens to be entirely green (representing the dollar) to see The Wizard (a representation of the President), in order to be heard and get what they want. Finally, the Wicked Witch of the East represents bankers, and the Wicked Witch of the West – who, remember, gets killed by water – would symbolize the end of crop failure.

To sum up, the next time you watch a movie, remember that there's more than meets the eye.


6)  Understanding the 7th Art

In 1911, Italian Film theorist Ricciotto Canuda argued that cinema was a new art, "a superb collaboration of the six ancient arts: architecture, sculpture, painting, music, dance, and poetry," which would make cinema the seventh art. In short, cinema is all of the arts in one, and understanding how much work goes into making a film will help you understand the beauty and artistic value it may hold.

To make a film you must write it, and writing is a form of art. From there you must find actors and a cinematographer (which involves photography skills). You need an editor, and you need musicians to score the film. You need set designers and costume designers, etc. You get my point, right? Cinema is one giant art collaboration, and we should look at films the same way we do a great painting, the same way we pay attention to a great song, and the way we appreciate a great book. Cinema is art, it takes time, and it's not just there to entertain you.


7) Have patience

We live in fast times, and everyone has their face in their phones - always looking for the next best thing, whether it's the new look, new app, or even swiping their way to a new romantic fling. Things seem to get too old too quickly for people nowadays, and that in itself has affected the way we view movies.

I often hear people complain if a movie is over two hours long; they feel it's too much of a commitment. Think about it, would you expect to read a book in under two hours? A good story takes time; it takes character development; it takes thought. It takes patience.

Next time you decide not to watch a movie because it's "too long," reflect on rule #6 and the time it takes to make a film. It may take you two hours to consume it, but it took the filmmaker years to produce it.

I hope these rules will help you appreciate cinema on a deeper level. If you have some tips on the way you like to watch a film, please do tell - share in the comments or on social... but not while you're watching a movie.

Photo by  You X Ventures  on  Unsplash

15 films to watch this summer - Selected by Nick Hartman, UICA's Film Coordinator

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It was one rough winter, and I'm not sure about the rest of you, but I'm enjoying the sunshine, blue skies, and summertime fun. That is, of course, enjoying that summertime fun through my TV set while I sit on my couch drinking a cold margarita.


Here’s a list of my favorite 15 films to watch this summer.


1) Dazed and Confused (1993)
Directed by: Richard Linklater
Genre: Comedy
Rated: R

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Remember that feeling you got when the last school bell rang that kicked off summer vacation? It's one of the best feelings you can experience as a kid. Dazed and Confused captures that feeling better than any other summer break film I can think of. Everything from the soundtrack, the fashion, and the tone of the film captures that summertime feeling perfect.

Synopsis
This coming-of-age film follows the mayhem of a group of rowdy teenagers in Austin, Texas, celebrating the last day of high school in 1976. The graduating class heads for a popular pool hall and joins an impromptu keg party; however, star football player Randall "Pink" Floyd (Jason London) has promised to focus on the championship game and abstain from partying. Meanwhile, the incoming freshmen try to avoid being hazed by the seniors, most notably the sadistic bully Fred O'Bannion (Ben Affleck).


2) Summer School (1987)
Directed by: Carl Reiner
Genre: Comedy
Rating: PG-13

Summer School

Not sure about you, but I had to attend summer school at one point in my life, and I can honestly say that it was absolute torture. To know that everyone was on the beach enjoying the warm summer sun while I was doing mathematics in a stuffy classroom really put my behind in gear. However, if my summer school experience had been anything like they portray it in Carl Reiner's cult classic Summer School, I'd want to spend every summer in class.

Synopsis
A pathetic gym teacher Freddy Shoop (Mark Harmon) is ready to take the summer off in Hawaii, but he's forced to either teach summer school English or risk losing his tenure. Now he's stuck teaching a group of unmotivated students as disappointed to be stuck in school over the summer as he is. But with the help of a friendly history teacher (Kirstie Alley), Shoop is at least learning how to act the part of a supportive mentor and perhaps even learning something about himself as well.


3) Ferris Bueller’s Day Off (1986)
Directed by: John Hughes
Genre: Comedy
Rating: PG-13

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I was never one to skip out on school and I took my studies very seriously. I know what you’re thinking - “Didn’t you just say you had to go to summer school?” Okay, you caught me. I ditched out every once in a while, but I blame that behavior all on Ferris Bueller. Let’s be honest, he made ditching school seem way cooler than it actually is. Sure, I may have been cruising the streets on my skateboard, but I wasn’t driving a Ferrari, going to baseball games and singing/dancing in parades on my days off.             

Synopsis
Ferris Bueller has an uncanny skill at cutting classes and getting away with it. Intending to make one last duck-out before graduation, Ferris calls in sick, "borrows" a Ferrari, and embarks on a one-day journey through the streets of Chicago. On Ferris' trail is high school principal Rooney, determined to catch him in the act.


4) Do the Right Thing (1989)
Directed by: Spike Lee
Genre: Drama
Rated: R

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This film is hot – it literally makes you sweat when you watch it. The film takes place in New York City on a day/night that's over 100 degrees and every person on screen is dripping sweat and looks miserable. However, the 100-degree day is the least of their worries and what their community has to deal with throughout the picture is what should make you really sweat.

Synopsis
Salvatore "Sal" Fragione (Danny Aiello) is the Italian owner of a pizzeria in Brooklyn. A neighborhood local, Buggin' Out (Giancarlo Esposito), becomes upset when he sees that the pizzeria's Wall of Fame exhibits only Italian actors. Buggin' Out believes a pizzeria in a black neighborhood should showcase black actors, but Sal disagrees. The wall becomes a symbol of racism and hate to Buggin' Out and to other people in the neighborhood, and tensions rise.


5) The Sandlot (1993)
Directed by: David Mickey Evans
Genre: USA
Rated: PG

If The Sandlot doesn’t capture the feeling of summer for you then I don’t know what film will. This film is so much more than a story about kids playing baseball; it's about being there for one another, about overcoming the odds, and truly enjoying your youth while you have it. 

Synopsis
When Scottie Smalls moves to a new neighborhood, he manages to make friends with a group of kids who play baseball at the sandlot. Together they go on a series of funny and touching adventures. The boys run into trouble when Smalls borrows a ball from his stepdad that gets hit over a fence.


6)  Jaws (1975)
Directed By: Steven Spielberg
Genre: Drama | Horror
Rated: R

Jaws

Besides baseball, I'm pretty sure of going to the beach and swimming is America's favorite pastime. There's nothing like a day in the summer sun while listening to the waves crash upon the shore, the smell of suntan lotion, and just the fact of knowing you have nothing but hours of relaxation ahead of you. That is until you hear the screams of men, women, and children running to the shore due to the fact a 25-foot shark is feasting upon people. Jaws is one of those movies that takes one of the most pleasurable moments and turns it into a full-blown nightmare, and I can't even describe how fun the nightmare is.

Synopsis
When a killer shark unleashes chaos on a beach community, it's up to a local sheriff, a marine biologist, and an old seafarer to hunt the beast down.


Weekend at Bernies

7) Weekend at Bernies (1989)
Directed by: Ted Kotcheff
Genre: Comedy
Rated: PG- 13

The ‘80s were weird, and Weekend at Bernie’s is solid proof. Sometimes I imagine what it would be like to be a film executive and have a writer pitch an idea for a movie that’s about two party boys who are invited to their boss’s beach house for a weekend of partying and upon their arrival, they find his dead body. Instead of calling the authorities in fear of losing their weekend of luxury they maintain the illusion that Bernie’s still alive and carry him from party to party. Honestly though, how could you turn down an idea like that…?

Synopsis
Fun-loving salesmen Richard and Larry are invited by their boss, Bernie to stay the weekend at his posh beach house. Little do they know that Bernie is the perpetrator of a fraud they've uncovered and is arranging to have them killed. When the plan backfires and Bernie is killed instead, the buddies decide not to let a little death spoil their vacation. They pretend Bernie is still alive, leading to hijinks and corpse desecration galore.


8) Friday (1995)
Directed by: F. Gary Gray
Genre: Comedy
Rated: R

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One of my favorite things to do in the summer is just sitting on the porch and be one with my neighborhood. Whether it's watching the neighbors grill, mowing their lawn, or kids running up and down the street. Friday takes place over one day while two friends sit on their porch and watch their neighborhood come alive.  However, their neighborhood has a lot more excitement than mine.

Synopsis
Smokey (Chris Tucker) and Craig (Ice Cube), smoke a dope dealer’s weed and try to figure a way to get the $200 they owe to the dealer by 10:00 PM that same night.


9) Apocalypse Now (1979)
Directed By: Francis Ford Coppola
Genre: Drama | War
Rated: R

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I’m a sucker for Vietnam films, but Apocalypse Now takes the cake. Extremely unfortunate that war even happens, but the only good thing to come out of them is the art they inspire. Movies like Platoon, Schindler’s List, Full Metal Jacket, and The Pianist are timeless and will be there not only to entertain but to educate us on the horrors of our past. Apocalypse Now may not be a cheerful summertime flick, but the fire of the napalm sure makes you feel like you’re sitting in the hot summer sun.

Synopsis
In Vietnam in 1970, Captain Willard (Martin Sheen) takes a perilous and increasingly hallucinatory journey upriver to find and terminate Colonel Kurtz (Marlon Brando), a once-promising officer who has reportedly gone completely mad. In the company of a Navy patrol boat filled with street-smart kids, a surfing-obsessed Air Cavalry officer (Robert Duvall), and a crazed freelance photographer (Dennis Hopper), Willard travels further and further into the heart of darkness.


10)  Dog Day Afternoon (1975)
Directed by: Sidney Lumet
Genre: Crime
Rated: R

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There was a string of gritty detective films in the ‘70s that always took place in NYC in the hot summer sun and honestly I pretty much love them all, but Dog Day Afternoon stands out due to the fact it’s based off a true love story about one man robbing a bank in order to get sex reassignment surgery for the man he loves.

Synopsis
When inexperienced criminal Sonny Wortzik (Al Pacino) leads a bank robbery in Brooklyn, things quickly go wrong, and a hostage situation develops. As Sonny and his accomplice, Sal Naturile (John Cazale), try desperately to remain in control, a media circus develops and the FBI arrives, creating even more tension. Gradually, Sonny's surprising motivations behind the robbery are revealed, and his standoff with law enforcement moves toward its inevitable end.


11) Point Break (1991)
Directed by: Kathryn Bigelow
Genre: Crime/Thriller
Rated: R

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There have been so many great "bromances" on screen throughout the history of cinema, whether it was between Tom Cruise and Val Kilmer in Top Gun (1986) or Mike Myers and Dana Carvey in Wayne’s World (1992), but the one that tops them all is between Keanu Reeves and Patrick Swayze in Point Break. The unspoken bro love they share between each other just makes you want to call up your best friend, get some president masks, rob a bank, and then hit the beach to shred some waves.

Synopsis:
After a string of bizarre bank robberies in Southern California, with the crooks donning masks of various former presidents, a federal agent, Johnny Utah (Keanu Reeves), infiltrates the suspected gang. But this is no ordinary group of robbers. They're surfers -- led by the charismatic Bodhi (Patrick Swayze) -- who are addicted to the rush of thievery. But when Utah falls in love with a female surfer, Tyler (Lori Petty), who is close to the gang, it complicates his sense of duty.


12) The Warriors (1979)
Directed by: Walter Hill
Genre: Drama | Action
Rated: PG-13

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Imagine every violent street gang in New York City is trying to track you and your crew down because you were framed for a murder you didn’t commit. Just the thought of it makes me sweat more than running a 5k on a hot summer’s day.

Synopsis:
A turf battle between New York City street gangs that rages from Coney Island to the Bronx. The Warriors are mistakenly fingered for the killing of a gang leader. Soon they have every gang in the city out to get revenge and they must make their way across the city to their turf.


13) Fast Times at Ridgemont High (1982)
Directed by: Amy Heckerling
Genre: Comedy
Rated: R

Fast times

Call me crazy, but I’m going to have to say that Sean Penn as Jeff Spicoli may be his best role; or at least his most memorable. Fast Times is yet another film that captures the high school experience and overall what it feels like to be young, to make mistakes, and overall to learn from them.

Synopsis:

Stacy Hamilton (Jennifer Jason Leigh) is a pretty, but inexperienced, teen interested in dating. Given advice by her uninhibited friend, Linda Barrett (Phoebe Cates), Stacy gets trapped in a love triangle with nice guy Mark Ratner (Brian Backer) and his more assured buddy Mike Damone (Robert Romanus). Meanwhile, Stacy's classmate Jeff Spicoli (Sean Penn), who lives for surfing and being stoned, faces off against Mr. Hand (Ray Walston), a strict teacher who has no time for the slacker's antics.


14) Stand By Me (1986)
Directed by: Rob Reiner
Genre: Adventure | Drama
Rated: R

Stand By Me

I’m a sucker for coming of age films but Stand By Me is arguably the best of the best. It’s compassionate and has outstanding performances that capture the real heart of youth and the fears of life that lay ahead. A film that blossoms the nostalgia of youth as well as what it means to be alive.

Synopsis:
After learning that a stranger has been accidentally killed near their rural homes, four Oregon boys decide to go see the body. On the way, Gordie Lachance (Wil Wheaton), Vern Tessio (Jerry O'Connell), Chris Chambers (River Phoenix) and Teddy Duchamp (Corey Feldman) encounter a mean junk man and a marsh full of leeches, as they also learn more about one another and their very different home lives. Just a lark at first, the boys' adventure evolves into a defining event in their lives.


15) The Lost Boys (1987)
Directed by: Joel Schumacher
Genre: Horror
Rated: R

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There's something about Michigan summers that make me a night owl. I assume it's due to the fact our winters are so cold and dark that they put us to bed by 8 PM. As soon as that warm weather starts to peak I find myself lurking the city streets after dark until the dawn just like a vampire. The Lost Boys is one of those films that embrace the celebration of summertime nightlife but also gives you tips on saving your mortal soul against a gang of vampires.

Synopsis:
Teenage brothers Michael (Jason Patric) and Sam (Corey Haim) move with their mother (Dianne Wiest) to a small town in northern California. While the younger Sam meets a pair of kindred spirits in geeky comic-book nerds Edward (Corey Feldman) and Alan (Jamison Newlander), the angst-ridden Michael soon falls for Star (Jami Gertz) -- who turns out to be in thrall to David (Kiefer Sutherland), leader of a local gang of vampires. Sam and his new friends must save Michael and Star from the undead.


Now I encourage you to go recline, crack a cold drink, and soak up the rays from your television set.

Question is, what’s your favorite summer film?

Open Projector Night Spotlight- Matt Charrouf (OPN #25 People's Choice Award)

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Matt Charrouf's short film Acid Rain is the most recent Open Projector Night Peoples' Choice Award Winner. We spoke with Matt to learn more about his work, inspiration, and future projects.

For those who don’t know Matt Charrouf. Tell us about yourself - give us a short bio.

I don’t know. This one is hard for me. I can be a bit of a workaholic and I really like to spend a lot of money on clothes and shoes. I almost never watch movies anymore (relative to your typical film person). I love politics but I can't handle it most of the time. I keep about 75-100 tabs open on my computer at any given time. What else is there?

What is your favorite film(s) and why?

My number one is The Spirit of the Beehive (1973) by Victor Erice. I've only ever actually watched it once and it just struck a chord with me. Something about the endless landscapes, allegorical references and the charisma of the two young actors. I've also always loved that Victor Erice basically made arguably the greatest Spanish film ever made and just called it then and there. Beyond that, I love near future sci-fi films like Her, Arrival, and Ex-Machina. I love Richard Linklater too. He was like a huge reason I moved to Austin for awhile and School of Rock defined me.

Who and what inspires you?

My biggest inspirations always start with music. I'm a recovering Kanye hater but I got my 4 years clean chip recently actually so he's been huge for me. That's like the worst answer but whatever. Besides that, my inspirations can be pretty fleeting. I'm super ADHD so stuff will catch my interest and I have to try and capture whatever it was about it quickly in that moment or its gone forever. I also get really inspired in the car usually. Something about it just makes the good ideas come out.

For those who haven’t seen Acid Rain;  Tell us about itWhat’s the overall narrative?

Acid Rain is about this dude Benjamin who has been locked in his basement by his overprotective mother since she almost lost him in child birth. #freebenjamin

Can you tell us a little bit about the evolution of Acid Rain and how the film came about? Why did you want to tell this specific story?

I didn't write Acid Rain, another GVSU student Chad Flaska did, but I did collaborate in its evolution. Initially, upon hearing the pitch, I gravitated towards the eeriness of the setting. A dude just trapped in a room, in the first version, he was mostly blind and it's set in the ‘90s. There were a ton of options there. I love stuff like that. I love to make stuff like that. The story changed the most in my pursuit of cramming as much of the '90s as we logically could into it. I was determined to make a kid with an overprotective mother still viably be in love with Kurt Cobain.

Another big change came in that Chad is not that into music, and I am, so the second I got a chance to go into it and insert those elements, I was all over it. My friend Sam and I made this unreal playlist of sick ‘90s bands. Everything from Oasis to Slint and back again. 

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Acid Rain has a strong theme of the ‘90s whether it’s the Nirvana/Kurt Cobain references, Twin Peaks t-shirt, VHS collections, etc. Why the ‘90s? What made you want to choose this decade?

So the '90s is just generally dope. I don't really give a shit about any of that nostalgia stuff that people get into but Kurt Cobain's legacy is one of the greatest. 2pac too (sadly, I chose to leave rap out of this one). Like the fast rise and short lived tenure they both had is so incredible.

I love production design too and I knew the challenge of creating something that would require us to build stuff and go find items was gonna be way more fun than just using all the stuff we already have and my "band" is so talented but young that I knew I could push them out of their comfort zone. It was cool to expose them to a bunch of music that they had clearly never even heard of before.

Tell us about your first related film experience, what hit you and made you want to pursue the world of film?

I grew up in a family that has always really cared about film so I've been seeing them my whole life. The earliest and most important experiences were the first time I saw Star Wars when I was maybe 5 or 6 in '98 and then seeing The Matrix in '99. The Matrix was a film that scared the shit out of me when I was that young. I barely understood it at its most basic level but the thing is just pure bliss from start to finish. To me, that was what films were about. Also, it’s punk as shit and I have just always had an issue with authority.

I didn't really consider pursuing film until I was about 20 though. I wanted to be a musician (a pipe dream).

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What’s your next project?

I don't want to give away too much because I like to work in secrecy to some extent, but it's another short. We are shooting it on 35mm and it's going to be dope. I'll say it's loosely based on some music from an older Grand Rapids metal band but I don't want to give even that away yet. I wrote this one too so its going to be different tonally even though Chad and I do actually have similar taste. 

If you were granted a large budget and could make your dream film, what would it be?

A massive sci-fi blockbuster but only if I had absolutely total final cut. I'm not interested if someone else gets to say what it becomes. Probably something with aliens.

Can you provide any advice to aspiring filmmakers?

I'm probably not the person to ask but work harder than you think you have to and surround yourself with people who genuinely push you creatively. It’s gotta be hard.

Any words about Open Projector Night?

Open Projector Night is dope. We are very fortunate to have something like the UICA that is genuinely supporting film because it's becoming increasingly rare and the internet is cool and all but movie theaters are still the way to experience films.


For more information on Open Projector Night and how to submit please visit: https://www.uica.org/open-projector-night

Open Projector Night Spotlight- Antonio Luna & Connor Kovack (OPN #24 People's Choice Award)

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Antonio Luna & Connor Kovack’s short film Video Limbo is the most recent Open Projector Night People’s Choice Award Winner. We sat down with the filmmakers to learn more about their work, inspiration, and future projects.

Who is Antonio Luna & Connor Kovack? Give us a short bio.

Antonio Luna is an emerging filmmaker from St. Louis, focusing on directing and cinematography.

Connor Kovack is an emerging filmmaker from Grand Rapids, whose main focus is production. They have recently graduated from DePaul University in Chicago, where they were exposed to the DIY and independent filmmaking movement, and incorporated this style and frugality within their films. Antonio has worked on a number of different films from animation and comedy, to experimental, trying to challenge himself with every project. During college, Connor produced several low budget shorts, and produced a feature. Antonio is currently based in Chicago and Connor now resides in Los Angeles; both focusing on building skills valuable to the entertainment and motion picture industry.

What is your favorite film(s) and why?

Antonio: One of my favorite films has to be Lawrence of Arabia. Just the grand spectacle of it and yet the deeply human and intimate story showcase all of the possibilities cinema has to offer. I try to keep an a wide taste in the films I view. I have recently become almost addicted to watching foreign films. I enjoy all types of genre films such as film noir, horror, and science fiction.

Connor: Anyone who knows me knows I have many favorite films. A film that always comes to mind when asked this question is Trainspotting. It is a film that showed me how art can be incorporated within storytelling. The film has everything, humor, great music, partying, life lessons, culture, high and low emotions. Let’s also not forget how relatable the main character Renton is.

Who and what inspires you to create?

Antonio: I am inspired to create the films I want to see. I am particularly inspired by filmmakers like David Lynch, Stanley Kubrick, and Alfonso Cuaron who make films that are personal to them, perhaps a bit controversial, and challenge the form of cinematic storytelling.

Connor: I use to look up to certain Directors and Actors, until I moved to Los Angeles. Now those who inspire me to create are close family members.

For those who haven’t seen Video Limbo. Can you describe the overall narrative?

There’s a lot that goes into the narrative, it’s hard to explain without sound confusing but we also don’t want to compromise the viewer’s experience of watching it and their own interpretation. The beginning set up is that of a thriller (like Rear-Window or Blow-Up) where a young man is obsessed with videoing his neighbor. As he spies on her, he discovers a strange entity is following her. He becomes entangled into a strange and possibly sinister world.

Can you tell us a little bit about the process of Video Limbo and why you wanted to make it?

This film was made for our final project in our capstone class. We both figured we should make a film for our final project. It is film school after all. With this one we wanted to challenge ourselves with a project that was experimental in narrative and content, yet followed the feeling that your were watching a film with an emotional arc. We wanted the audience to have felt a change by the end of the film, even if they find it hard to explain what they just saw. Because we had the deadlines in the class, we worked very quickly through every process, making sure every decision fit the theme and tone we wanted to go for. We also decided doing it with no dialogue, saving time, but more importantly, allowing the images and soundscape to tell the story.

Antonio Luna

Antonio Luna

Tell us about your first related film experience, what hit you and made you want to pursue the world of film?

Antonio: I used to make films all the time as a kid. When I got to high school, I met friends that were also interested in filmmaking and through that we started to get together and seriously create short films.

Connor: I remember in high school I took an AV class. I hated it, but knew I still wanted to work towards filmmaking. It helped me understand that I wanted to create films that differed from the usual.

Can you provide any advice to aspiring filmmakers?

Connor: Being a successful filmmaker, or an artist, you have to have a sense of entrepreneurship. No one is going to let you direct a film; no one is going to promote you to a producer. It doesn’t work like that within filmmaking; you need to create those opportunities for yourself. To do that, you need to have some business sense. That and get ready to deal with some strong personalities once money is involved.

Antonio: Connor’s advice is very solid. I think it is always a process of learning and growth. Whether it’s learning the technical skills to make a film, or more about yourself, the filmmaker, and the things that are important to you or what you enjoy doing. I would say to just keep challenging yourself and never let up having a creative spirit, in any aspect of your life.

Any future projects for you two? Anything on the horizon that you’re currently working on or would like to begin production on?

Antonio: I’m currently writing a new short. Another DIY project, this time more grounded in the film noir genre. I’m hoping to hone in my style a little more, keeping it experimental and surreal in many of the aspects.

Connor: I’m currently in the final stages of post-production for a feature I produced. I would like to make another DIY experimental short with the theme being homelessness. The only problem is that I little time these days.

Connor Kovack

Connor Kovack

If you were granted a large budget and could make your dream film, what would it be?

Antonio: I would love to make a grand sci-fi epic on the scale of Blade Runner or 2001. I am also attracted to the idea of making a historical film about the conquest of Aztec Mexico by the Spanish Conquistadors.

Connor: I have a lot of ideals for films, however if I had a large budget I would like to make a film during the medieval ages in Europe, similar to Excalibur, I find that aesthetic to be very pleasing.

Any words about Open Projector Night?

Connor: Unfortunately I was not able to visit, which is a shame as I from Grand Rapids. Antonio told me it was ran very well and enjoyed his time there.

Antonio: I was so happy to be able to attend and see all the different types of independent content from all over the world! It was an honor to be included with the other films and to be selected as the winner. I was excited to answer audience questions and enjoyed discussing my film with people who were interested. 

Please take your time to watch Antonio and Connor’s award winning film Video Limbo!
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10 films to watch this winter - Selected by Nick Hartman, UICA's Film Coordinator

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There’s something comforting but depressing about the winter months in a cold climate. The days are bleak and cold, but it’s a time where you can lock yourself inside, snuggle up in your blanket, and spend hours sitting in front of the TV without feeling guilty. I mean, what else is there to really do when it’s below zero? Go skiing, snowmobiling, take a hike? Nah, too cold. If you’re like me and enjoy sitting in a dark room, with snacks and your favorite hot drink, then here’s a list of my top 10 recommended films to watch during the winter months.

UICA’s Film Coordinator, Nick Hartman, lists some of his favorite films to watch this winter.


1) My Winnipeg (2007)
Directed by: Guy Maddin
Genre: Drama/Experimental
Origin: Canada
Rating: Not Rated

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Director Guy Maddin is far too overlooked, and if you’re not familiar with his work, then I’m glad I can be the one to open your eyes to such a talented filmmaker. My Winnipeg is a gem that captures the look of the 1950’s even though it was made in 2007. Its unique use of black and white photography and genre-blending gives it an old cinematic feel, but I can assure you it’s a contemporary masterpiece that will go down as a classic.

Synopsis
Canadian filmmaker Guy Maddin conducts a personal tour of Winnipeg, Manitoba, the town where he grew up and still lives, in a film he calls a "docu-fantasia." By combining archival footage and interviews, dreamlike camera work and recreated scenes -- including several with actress Ann Savage playing the part of Maddin's mother -- the filmmaker builds a portrait of Winnipeg that manages to be historical, intimate, surreal, entertaining and entirely his own.
 


2) Until the Light Takes Us (2008)
Directed by: Audrey Ewell
Genre: Documentary
Origin: USA | Norway
Rating: R

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Everyone’s heard of Biggie and Tupac, but many haven’t heard of Euronymous and Varg, who are considered to be the Biggie and Tupac of metal music. In the frostbitten land of Norway, an underground metal scene known as “Norwegian Black Metal” was created by Øystein "Euronymous" Aarseth. This dark heavy metal scene sparked a series of church burnings, gruesome murders, and ultimately the demise of Euronymous – the man who started it all.

Synopsis
This documentary takes a behind-the-scenes look at the controversial Norwegian black metal scene of the 1990s, an idealistic and innovative musical movement marred by jealous infighting and an unfortunate campaign of public violence. Drummer Leif Gylve "Fenriz" Nagell of Darkthrone and Varg Vikernes of Mayhem -- an innovative but troubled musician who spent over a decade behind bars for the murder of black-metal guitarist Øystein "Euronymous" Aarseth -- tell their stories.


3) Winter Light (1963)
Directed by: Ingmar Bergman
Genre: Drama
Origin: Sweden
Rating: R

Winter Light

There’s already something so gloomy about Bergman’s films, whether it’s the look of the cold waves of the sea crashing upon the shore, or the way his stories explore the dark side of human emotion that a lot of directors don’t know how to tap into. However, his film Winter Light may be his bleakest film, not just because of the title, and its aesthetic choices; but because of the narrative that explores loss, heartbreak, and religious doubt.               

Synopsis
A Swedish pastor fails a loving woman, a suicidal fisherman, and God.


4) Edward Scissorhands (1990)
Directed by: Tim Burton
Genre: Drama | Fantasy | Romance
Origin: USA
Rated: PG-13

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I sometimes find myself confused and not sure if I should watch Edward Scissorhands in the summer, the fall, or closer to the holidays. Honestly, that’s what makes this film so special. Edward is a character you’d see straight out of a horror film, but the setting he’s placed in, such as the brightly colored suburban neighborhood or a dark wintery night makes this film watchable any season. I however, prefer to watch in the winter due to Kim’s iconic snow dance scene.

Synopsis
A scientist builds an animated human being -- the gentle Edward. The scientist dies before he can finish assembling Edward, though, leaving the young man with a freakish appearance accentuated by the scissor blades he has instead of hands. Loving suburban saleswoman Peg discovers Edward and takes him home, where he falls for Peg's teen daughter. However, despite his kindness and artistic talent, Edward's hands make him an outcast.


5) Ida (2013)
Directed by: Pawel Pawlikowski
Genre: Drama
Origin: Poland | Denmark | France | UK
Rated: PG-13

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I can’t conduct a list of movies to watch without including one that’s played here at the UICA. If you attended the screening of Ida, then you can skip to number 6 because you already know how great this film is and don’t need me to tell you why. If you haven’t seen it, then I highly encourage you to do so. A film written with empathy, great acting, and carefully framed black and white photography that really captures some of Poland’s dark history but also their cold winter landscapes.

Synopsis
In 1962, Anna is about to take vows as a nun when she learns from her only relative that she is Jewish. Both women embark on a journey to discover their family story and where they belong.


6)  Misery (1990)
Directed by: Rob Reiner
Genre: Horror | Crime
Origin: USA
Rated: R

Misery

Next time a blizzard roles in, I recommend putting on this film.  One of the worst feelings one can experience is being isolated, locked in, and being held against your will. Misery is a film that explores those themes, and if you screen during a blizzard knowing you can’t leave it will only intensify your viewing experience.

Synopsis
After a serious car crash, novelist Paul Sheldon is rescued by former nurse Annie Wilkes, who claims to be his biggest fan. Annie brings him to her remote cabin to recover, where her obsession takes a dark turn when she discovers Sheldon is killing off her favorite character from his novels. As Sheldon devises plans for escape, Annie grows increasingly controlling, even violent, as she forces the author to shape his writing to suit her twisted fantasies.


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7) Snow Angels (2007)
Directed by: David Gordon-Green
Genre: Drama
Origin: USA
Rated: R

Before director David Gordon-Green got noticed for his mind numbing stoner films such as Pineapple Express (2008) and Your Highness (2011) he actually wrote and directed some amazing films, and Snow Angels is one of them.

I’ve always been a sucker for films that are set in a small town. Maybe it’s because I come from one, or maybe because these films have really interesting and relatable characters. Snow Angels really dives into human relationships in small towns and how paths are easily crossed. When these paths are crossed and secrets are revealed, human emotions become cold and dark, and that provides you with a perfect winter film.

Synopsis
Waitress Annie has separated from her suicidal alcoholic husband, Glenn. Glenn has become an evangelical Christian, but his erratic attempts at getting back into Annie's life have alarmed her. High school student Arthur works at Annie's restaurant, growing closer to a new kid in town, Lila, after class. When Glenn and Annie's daughter go missing, the whole town searches for her, as he increasingly spirals out of control.


8) Kumiko: The Treasure Hunter (2014)
Directed by: David Zellner
Genre: Drama | Fantasy
Origin: USA
Rated: Not Rated

Kumiko: The Treasure Hunter

If you look up any list of “films to watch in the winter” more than half of them will list the film Fargo (1996). Now of course, I can see why, but I wouldn’t be doing my civic duty as UICA’s Film Coordinator if I didn’t enlighten you about Kumiko due to the connections it makes and has with Fargo. I can’t encourage you enough to see this movie if you’re a Fargo fan.

Synopsis
Kumiko, a Japanese woman who suffers from a mental illness is obsessed with the 1996 film Fargo, specifically the scene where Carl Showaltter buries the briefcase of money by the fence. Kumiko ultimately believes that Fargo isn’t a work of fiction but a true story and believes that the briefcase is still buried there. Kumiko makes it her mission to fly from Japan to the United States to obtain her treasure.


9) Let the Right One In (2008)
Directed by: Tomas Alfredson
Genre: Drama | Romance | Horror
Origin: Sweden  
Rated: R

Let the right one in

I’ve seen a lot of vampire films and I can honestly say ‘Let the Right One In’ is a vampire film like no other, and stands far apart from the rest. The film puts a whole new spin on the genre and delivers one of the most romantic, atmospheric, and horrifying films released in the past 20 years.

Synopsis
When Oskar, a sensitive, bullied 12-year-old boy living with his mother in suburban Sweden, meets his new neighbor, the mysterious and moody Eli, they strike up a friendship. Initially reserved with each other, Oskar and Eli slowly form a close bond, but it soon becomes apparent that she is no ordinary young girl. Eventually, Eli shares her dark, macabre secret with Oskar, revealing her connection to a string of bloody local murders.


10)  Gold Rush (1925)
Directed by: Charlie Chaplin
Genre: Comedy
Origin: USA
Rated: Not Rated

Gold Rush

A classic silent comedy staring The Little Tramp (Charlie Chaplin) that will be sure to put a smile on your face during a cold winter’s night. The film itself feels cold considering the entire film takes place in the winter, but I assure you Chaplin’s iconic dinner roll dance scene will warm your heart.

Synopsis
Trapped in a small cabin by a blizzard, the Tramp is forced to share close quarters with a successful prospector and a fugitive. Eventually able to leave the cabin, he falls for a lovely barmaid, trying valiantly to win her affections. When the prospector needs help locating his claim, it appears the Tramp's fortunes may change.


Now do yourself a favor - get warm and cozy, make yourself your favorite drink and plan to spend hours in front of your television watching these wintery cinematic masterpieces.

Open Projector Night Spotlight- Rachel Debolski (OPN #23 People's Choice Award)

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Rachel Debolski's short film Nail Polish & Pills is the most recent Open Projector Night Peoples' Choice Award Winner. We sat down with the filmmaker to learn more about her work, inspiration, and future projects.

Who is Rachel Debolski? Give us a short bio.

I’m a Detroit based writer, experimental filmmaker, installation and performance artist currently pursuing a BFA in Entertainment Arts with an emphasis in Digital filmmaking at the College for Creative Studies. My work uses narrative devices to analyze the human condition, and explore concepts such as female subjectivity, and the female experience. My characters often challenge the limited representation of female identities in film and media.

What is your favorite film(s) and why?

Sweetie (1990) By Jane Campion and Love is A Treasure (2002) By Eija-Liisa Ahtila. Both of these films have had a major influence on my work. They both opened me up to the world of experimental narrative and exposed me to strange and emotionally complex female protagonists. 

Who and what inspires you to create?

Creating is cathartic for me. In my work, I often draw from my own personal experiences so when another person resonates or relates to something I made Its sort of like reassurance of my own reality. So that’s what really inspires me to create, obtaining that sense of connection.

For those who haven’t seen Nail Polish and Pills. Can you describe the overall narrative?

Nail Polish and Pills is an experimental narrative about seven teenage girls and their typical afternoon in a psychiatric hospital activity room. The girls paint their nails, do arts and crafts, eat snacks, and gossip to the viewer about one another. 

5) Can you tell us a little bit about the process of Nail Polish and Pills and why you wanted to make it?

I felt that most films about the teenage experience and mental illness were often poorly depicted. I wanted to create a film that accurately and honestly reflected those realities. I used my own experiences to do so. At the time, I was experimenting with narrative-driven video installation’s and playing around with perception, and how to engage a viewer more interactively. I was also getting into character studies through monologue writing. The overall story and structure of the film came from those practices. I then teamed up with three of my fellow classmates and sent out a casting call and ended up with an extremely talented all female cast and crew.

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Tell us about your first related film experience, what hit you and made you want to pursue the world of film?

My first experience wasn’t great. In fact, my first few weren’t great. I didn’t know anything about cameras and I was going through a bit of a pre-life crisis in terms of who I was as an artist and filmmaker. It got to the point that I wasn’t even sure if going to school for filmmaking was something I should be doing. It wasn’t until I saw Jane Campion’s film ‘Sweetie’ in my narrative class that I really had that “uh ha” moment. From that point on I started writing more. Once I found my passion for what kind of films I wanted to make, the rest kind of snow balled from there.

Can you provide any advice to aspiring filmmakers?

For awhile I cared so much about how others were responding to my work that I wouldn’t try anything, I’d play it safe. It wasn’t until I started breaking out of that mindset that I began taking risks and experimenting and making films that I was actually proud of. So I guess my advice would be to do just that, take risks and try new things.

What’s in store for the future projects of Rachel Debolski? Anything on the horizon that you’re currently working on or would like to begin production on?

I’m currently working on an experimental narrative and video installation. The story is a dark comedy about four women who unexpectedly experience a psychotic breakdown during their mundane activities.

If you were granted a large budget and could make your dream film, what would it be?

A dark comedy musical that takes place in women’s public restrooms. It’s an idea I’ve had brewing for awhile. Someday though.

Any words about Open Projector Night?

It was a really great experience. I love what you guys are doing, creating a space for local independent filmmakers to showcase their work. I’m happy I was able to be a part of it.   

10 horror films to watch this October - Selected by Nick Hartman, UICA's Film Coordinator

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Everyone knows October is the month where the air begins to get crisp, the leaves dance with the wind, jack o lanterns sit on porches, and where you want to spend nights indoors with your favorite ghoul cuddled up on the couch watching a spooky movie. If you’re looking for something to send a chill down your spine, then you’re in luck!

UICA’s Film Coordinator, Nick Hartman, lists some of his favorite horror films to watch this October.


Before we dive into this list I think it’s important to mention that I’m not going to cover all the obvious/popular films like Night of the Living Dead (1968), Nightmare on Elm Street (1984), Halloween (1978), etc. Sure, I’ll list a couple that I personally can’t leave out, but there are so many other horror films that need to be discussed.

Let’s begin!

1) The Hands of Orlac (1924)
Directed by: Robert Weine
Rating: Not Rated

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When discussing the silent horror genre most people think of F.W. Murnau’s Nosferatu (1922) or the German expressionist masterpiece The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1920). If you haven’t seen these films then please do yourself favor and watch them immediately. But, one that finds itself in the shadows is The Hands of Orlac and I wish this one was just as popular as the other two. To me, there’s already something spooky about the silent film era, but The Hands of Orlac cranks up the eeriness with it’s unique use double exposures and haunting cinematography.

Synopsis
Paul Orlac a gifted concert pianist looses his hands in a horrific railroad accident. In order to save his career his wife pleads with a surgeon to transplant the hands of a recently executed murderer named Vasseur. When Orlac learns he now has the hands of a killer he becomes horror obsessed and believes the hands have possessed to him to kill.
 


2) The Return of the Living Dead (1985)
Directed by: Dan O’Bannon
Rating: R

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There are so many zombies films out there and to be honest I feel it’s a little over saturated. With the boom of The Walking Dead it seemed like there was a new zombie film every week (just like super hero flicks). It’s understandable to think that all zombie films are the same and you may say to yourself; why watch another? Well, do yourself a favor and watch this film. This isn’t your typical zombie movie because it’s so aware of itself and completely makes a mockery of the zombie genre but in the best way possible.

Synopsis
Two employees working at a medical supply warehouse accidentally crack open a military grade tank they find in the basement that releases a deadly gas into the air which happens to re-animate the dead. The gas works it way into the local cemetery where a group of teenagers are partying for the night.


3) Phantasm (1979)
Directed by: Don Coscerelli
Rating: R

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Everyone knows of Freddy Krueger and Jason Voorhees but not many about the "Tall Man" who happens to have come before both. Phantasm isn’t a cliché blood-bath featuring terrorized teens, it’s much more than that. It’s absolutely horrific and a surrealist fantasy that takes you on a journey of reality vs. imagination through it’s use of non-linear editing, spine tingling soundtrack, and mind-bending imagery. 

Synopsis
When Mike witnesses some sinister creatures stealing corpses from the local cemetery, he and his older brother Jody explore the mausoleum, where they find that the mortician (Angus Scrimm), a towering, emaciated figure with superhuman strength, has somehow bridged the gap between Earth and the afterworld and needs fresh corpses. Mike and Jody's allies die off one by one, until only they are left to defend humankind against the nefarious "Tall Man" and his army of cloaked creatures.


4) Inferno (1987)
Directed by: Dario Argento
Rating: R

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If you’re familiar with the name Dario Argento then you’re clearly familiar with his masterpiece ‘Suspiria’ (1977) and his other works such as Deep Red (1975), Tenebrea (1982), Opera (1987), etc, but one of my favorite films he’s directed is Inferno which happens to be the sequel to Suspiria. Argento has a way of bringing his stories to life not only through dialogue, but more importantly his visual style of filmmaking. If you enjoyed the surreal atmosphere Argento created with Suspiria, then Inferno is a great way to get your next fix.

Synopsis
Rose Elliot, a young poet in Rome, murdered after she reads a Latin book that tells the supernatural story of the Three Mothers. Her brother Mark investigates her murder and, after his friend Sara is killed, heads for New York.


5) The Blairwitch Project (1999)
Directed by: Eduardo Sanchez, Kevin Foxe
Rating: R

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As a horror fanatic nothing tends to scare me anymore because I’ve become to know and understand the formula so well. It’s quite unfortunate actually. But, out of all the horror films I’ve seen The Blairwitch Project is one of those films that can still keep me up at night.

Before it’s release there hasn’t been anything like it and honestly to this day even with all of the rip offs there’s still nothing like it. The fact it was shot all hand held, made to believe it was a found footage tape, and to create a fake legend behind it to sell it to audiences was just absolute genius and will go down as a staple in horror film history.

Synopsis
Three film students embark on a journey into the deep woods to make a documentary film about a woman who kidnapped and murdered eight children known as The Blairwitch. Unfortunately for them they find themselves lost in the woods being tormented by the witch and leaving only their footage behind.


6)  Night of the Demons (1988)
Directed by: Kevin S. Tenney
Rating: R

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I’m not going to lie to you and tell you that Night of the Demons is an amazing movie, because it’s not. It’s quite ridiculous actually, but I can tell you that it’s a fun watch. I mean, what’s there not to like about a group of teenagers partying in an abandon mortuary home on Halloween night while one of their best friends becomes possessed by a demon…?

Synopsis
Teenage outcast Angela is throwing a party at an abandon mortuary on Halloween night. When her radio dies and the music ends Angela insists on having a séance which leads her to be possessed by a demon. Angela’s guest must now survive through the night as she tries to slaughter them one by one.


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7) The Shining (1980)
Directed by: Stanley Kubrick
Rating: R

I know I said I wasn’t going to cover “obvious” horror films, but The Shining is just one that can’t be left off this list because I believe it to be not only one of the best horror films ever made, but one of the best films ever made. Everything about The Shining from it’s elaborate set design, soundtrack, the plot, acting, cinematography, and direction is (in my opinion) perfect. If you haven’t seen it drop everything you’re doing and prepare yourself for a cinematic experience, you’ll never forget.

Synopsis
Aspiring writer Jack Torrence takes a job as a caretaker at the isolated Overlook Hotel while moving his family there for the winter months. As Jack slowly begins to lose his mind due to cabin fever and the hotels haunted past his family finds themselves trapped inside the hotel with a murderous maniac.


8) Peeping Tom (1960)
Directed by: Michael Powell
Rating: Not Rated

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In the world of horror cinema there’s a debate of who directed the first slasher film and most claim that it was Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho (1960); but there are a select few that claim Michael Powell’s Peeping Tom broke that ground due to it being released just 4 months before Psycho. I recommend you give it a watch and make that call for yourself.

Synopsis
Mark Lewis a socially awkward cameraman murders women using a movie camera while filming their expressions of fear and terror as they meet their demise.


9) The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974)
Directed by: Tobe Hooper
Rating: R

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I know what you’re thinking, this is an obvious one too. Yes, you’re right, and I agree but it’s another one I can’t leave off the list because it’s my all time favorite slasher film. There’s just something about this film that sits with me, maybe because it’s one of the first horror films I ever saw or because the aesthetic choices Tobe Hooper made with the film. When you hear those 4 words that make up the title you immediately would believe it’s one of the bloodiest films ever made. But, in fact it’s not at all and that’s why this film is so impactful. Instead, Hooper uses smart editing tactics and camera tricks to let you use your imagination of what’s happening. To me, the imagination can be far more terrifying than actually seeing it and unfortunately most horror movies have forgotten that.

Synopsis
During a hot summer afternoon 5 teenagers take a trip to a friend’s family farmhouse. On that day they would all find themselves faced with a group of crazed murderous outcasts and a chainsaw wielding maniac who wears the skin of others that are living next door.


10)  The Masque of the Red Death (1964)
Directed by: Roger Corman
Rating: Not Rated

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It would be absurd and insulting to you if I conducted a list of must see horror films and left out the one and only Vincent Price. The Masque of the Red Death is an adaptation of a classic tale by the master of macabre; Edgar Allan Poe. There have been multiple adaptations of Poe’s stories and unfortunately not a lot of them do his stories justice, but Corman’s vision of the Red Death is one that would even make Poe proud.

Synopsis
Prince Prospero an evil, Satan worshiping prince who is living the life of luxury in a secluded castle while the towns people below are suffering from the bubonic plague. As the plague spreads prince Prospero realizes his life of luxury may be coming to an end.


Now do yourself a favor – order a pizza, dim the lights, grab a soda, wrap yourself in a blanket and enter yourself into a world of cinematic horror!

Scream

UICA’s Film Coordinator Nicholas Hartman discusses the importance of Wes Craven’s 1996 film ‘Scream’ and why you should come and see it.


Scream is screening in the UICA Movie Theater Oct 20th, 2018 at 8:00 PM.


Individuals with disabilities who require accommodations should contact Megan Bylsma, Associate Director, at 616.454.7000 x11 or megan@uica.org at least 72 hours in advance.

The Wild Boys (Les Garçons Sauvages)

By Patrick Feutz

Stepping out of Bertrand Mandico’s The Wild Boys is like lifting your eyes from the dusty old View-Master you found buried in a damp box deep in the basement to find that nearly two hours have passed, your dad’s fried Kenwood has been playing The Doors backwards, and dang, those nature slides are a lot weirder than you remember. That’s the sort of disorientation brought on by this turn of the century odyssey, which is pounded by waves of light and flighty vulgarity, like it’d been made in a vacuum far away from concerns about everyday decorum. But don’t go in expecting a gleeful, confrontational destruction of etiquette. Its tone is defined instead by a remarkably breathtaking blitheness.

Following a brief flash forward, we go back to the day when five teenage boys sexually assault their literature professor, an act that leads to her death and gets the boys dismissed from school. We might mistake the depiction of the attack for a stylized version of the truth. After all, the inaccuracy of each boy’s testimony is used to sum up the substance of their characters, ranging from the dark, prowling Jean-Louis (Vimala Pons) to the evasive, bleach blond Tanguy (Anael Snoek), while they’re assembled before stunning rear projection footage of roiling smoke. But we just don’t know the movie’s rules yet. Once we do, we take for granted the boys really wear paper-mache masks during the attack, the teacher really does lounge in a field of waving wheatgrass, the boys really do tie her to a horse that bolts in terror, and, last but not least, the boys really are enthralled to their own private Dionysus, personified by a bejeweled skull they call TREVOR. How’s that for a burlesque take on Skull and Bones? On top of that — and if it wasn’t already apparent — the boys are played by grown women, all of whom embody the laconic swagger of their characters’ disaffection so thoroughly its impossible to see unless you know to look for it.

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Soon after the attack the boys are entrusted to the care of The Captain (Sam Louwyck), a Dutch seafarer who press-gangs wayward youths on his ship in the name of reform. The Captain’s unconventional approach leads them to an island that’s essentially one giant erogenous zone, a Freudian fantasy world filled with “groping grass” and a musky odor best left to the script to describe. The boys take advantage of the irony and splurge on the erotic offerings, blissfully ignorant of the consequences. Here’s where the casting starts making sense, and where it’s best to wrap up the plot details.

If a movie’s aspirations can be mapped on a dartboard, the bullseye here is a mid-twenties silent feature, heavy on the decadence, excited by the newness of the medium. Mandico and company throw a perfect shot. Visually, every frame bursts from the seams, thanks to its inkblot black and white cinematography (interrupted by dream sequences lit in gorgeous pinks and blues), lush mise-en-scene, liberally interspersed silent era tricks, and fleet-footed pacing. Sonically, it mixes retro and modern, utilizing Pierre Desprats’s understated, tumbling surf electronic score, plus a winking selection from The Nutcracker, to enforce the rules of its dreamscape environment.

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In the end, the richly artificial sensuality of its sets and props are to be taken, and appreciated, at face value. Hunt for deeper meaning and you’ll find its a short dig to the gooey candy center. Its intense execution speaks to the simplicity behind Mandico’s vision. Humankind, stripped to its anatomical basics, is omnipresent, detectable in its inventions as much as it is in nature. Look for faces superimposed on dark hills and bodies hidden in dense foliage. Statuary are played by live models. The boys are collared to and figuratively become part of The Captain’s ship, while human hair is literally sown into its sails. Form and meaning are one and the same, and the short distance required to make that jump is sure to induce some degree of laughing disbelief. The dry presentation of characters gorging on suspiciously scrotal fruit goads a very specific reaction, most likely a chortle or guffaw if you’re onboard with it, a gasp if not.

Process if you can the idea of a ship’s captain whose lifetime of tattoos and scars are condensed to the space of flesh exposed when he relieves himself. It’s the most egregious example of sensuality in The Wild Boys, wherein everything animate and inanimate (Who are we kidding? Everything is animated here) marches crotch out to explore its surroundings.

The Wild Boys is screening in the UICA Movie Theater Oct 5 - Oct 18 2018.

Open Projector Night Spotlight- Eve Hinz (OPN #22 People's Choice Award)

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Eve Hinz's short film My Own Worst Enemy is the most recent Open Projector Night Peoples' Choice Award Winner. We sat down with the filmmaker to learn more about her work, inspiration, and future projects

Who is Eve Hinz? Give us a short bio.

I grew up in East Lansing and attended Michigan State University. I now live in Los Angeles, where I edit scripted and unscripted comedy content.

What is your favorite film(s) and why?

The stylized editing and visuals in Edgar Wright's films have had a big influence on me, with Scott Pilgrim vs. The World being my favorite of his. Smashed (James Ponsoldt) is another one of my favorite films, because of its masterful acting performances. 

Who at what inspires Eve Hinz?

I'm inspired by my friends and family who have found and are committed to their passions, whatever they may be.

Tell us about My Own Worst Enemy. What's the overall narrative?

My Own Worst Enemy explores the seemingly life or death anxieties that can come from the littlest things and how frustrating it can be to overcome self-imposed rules and rituals. 

It seems like your a jack of all trades considering you wrote, directed and acted in this film. Can you talk about that a little? What inspired you to act in your own film and what made you want to tell this specific story?

Writing and directing go hand in hand for me, both equally important in taking this narrative out of my head and turning it into a film. I decided to act in it as well because, selfishly, I just think acting is really fun and it is something I like to explore in low-stake settings. It's also one less person to feed on set.  

What's your next project?

Not sure! I've been wanting to experiment with more improv-based storytelling approaches. The idea of working with a skeleton script and shooting something very loose and unstructured really excites me.

Tell us about your first related film experience, what hit you and made you want to pursue the world of film?

I first realized my interest in video production and visual storytelling when making videos in middle school for class projects with friends. I would use my family's camcorder and, not having the knowledge of film software, would edit them together using a VCR machine. It wasn't until I got to college and met someone studying film production that I realized filmmaking was a real craft I could pursue.

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Can you provide advice to aspiring filmmakers?

My biggest advice, which is also the hardest for me to follow, is to not let fears of needing it to be perfect or not being ready keep you from creating. It doesn't have to be perfect. And you don't have to feel ready.

If you were granted a large budget and could make your dream film, what would it be?

I’m not sure exactly what it would be about, but it’s definitely a dream of mine to shoot a feature film in Michigan one day. 

Any words about Open Projector Night?

I'm so thankful my film played at Open Projector Night! It was the first audience viewing of My Own Worst Enemy, and a huge honor to have it screened at the UICA.  

Top 10 Protest Films - Selected by Nick Hartman, UICA's Film Coordinator

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Film has the ability to challenge viewers, to present new perspectives, and to powerfully comment on contemporary issues. Independent film often rebels against mainstream ideologies and encourages dialogue after audiences have left the cinema.

UICA’s Film Coordinator, Nick Hartman, reveals his top ten list of protest films, movies that rebel against the status quo.


1) The Network (1976)
Directed by: Sidney Lumet
Genre: Drama
Rating: PG

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The Network is one of those movies I watched in film school that I just can’t forget. I don’t want to give too much away (and there’s a lot that can be taken away from this film) but it’s one of those works that comments on our collective desire to consume entertainment that is sensational and the impact that has on all of us.

Synopsis
In this lauded satire, veteran news anchorman Howard Beale (Peter Finch) discovers that he's being put out to pasture, and he's none too happy about it. After threatening to shoot himself on live television, instead he launches into an angry televised rant, which turns out to be a huge ratings boost for the UBS network. This stunt allows ambitious producer Diana Christensen (Faye Dunaway) to develop even more outrageous programming, a concept that she takes to unsettling extremes.
 


2) Battleship Potemkin (1925)
Directed by: Sergei Eisenstein
Genre: Drama | History | Silent
Rating: Not Rated

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Notably known as one of the most important protest films ever made (and by the way, it’s a silent film). Battleship Potemkin presents the dramatization of a mutiny that occurred in 1905 when the crew of Russian battleship Potemkin rebelled against their officers. Battleship Potemkin is the definition of a protest film as the characters rise up against their commanding officers to resist a militant police state.

Synopsis
When they are fed rancid meat, the sailors on the Potemkin revolt against their harsh conditions. Led by Vakulinchuk (Aleksandr Antonov), the sailors kill the officers of the ship to gain their freedom. Vakulinchuk is also killed, and the people of Odessa honor him as a symbol of revolution. Tsarist Soldiers arrive and massacre the civilians to quell the uprising. A squadron of ships is sent to overthrow the Potemkin, but the ships side with the revolt and refuse to attack.


3) They Live (1988)
Directed by: John Carpenter
Genre: Sci-fi | Thriller
Rating: R

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They Live was released during the Reagan era and the film is clearly a remark on capitalism, Reaganomics, and consumerism. They Live criticizes the wealth imbalance and our collective need to be more thoughtful consumers.

Synopsis
Nada (Roddy Piper), a wanderer without meaning in his life, discovers a pair of sunglasses capable of showing the world the way it truly is. As he walks the streets of Los Angeles, Nada notices that both the media and the government are comprised of subliminal messages meant to keep the population subdued, and that most of the social elite are skull-faced aliens bent on world domination. With this shocking discovery, Nada fights to free humanity from the mind-controlling aliens.


4) The Black Panthers: Vanguard of the Revolution (2015)
Directed by: Stanley Nelson Jr.
Genre: Documentary
Rating: Not Rated

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We played this incredible film in the UICA Movie Theater a few years back. The Black Panthers: Vanguard of the Revolution is incredibly timely as it examines the lack of social progress since the civil rights era and highlights current issues related to the American police force and violence against persons of color.

Synopsis
In 1966 two African American men by the name of Huey Newton and Bobby Seale created a group known as The Black Panthers. The Black Panthers: Vanguard of the Revolution examines the rise of the Black Panther Party in the 1960s and its impact on civil rights and American culture.


5) Harlan County, USA (1976)
Directed by: Barbara Kopple
Genre: Documentary
Rating: PG

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This documentary follows Harlan County coal miners and their wives while they strike for safer working conditions, decent wages, and fair labor practices. The film is impactful because rather than using narration to tell the story (which is typical in most documentary formats),  the director lets the words and actions of the miners carry the film. Instead of being told what’s happening, you become involved in the world of the miners and their struggle to fight against capitalist greed.

Synopsis
In this documentary about labor tension in the coal-mining industry, director Barbara Kopple films a strike in rural Kentucky. After the coal miners at the Brookside Mine join a union, the owners refuse the labor contract. Once the miners start to strike, the owners of the mine respond by hiring scabs to fill the jobs of the regular employees. The strike, which lasts more than a year, frequently becomes violent, with guns produced on both sides, and one miner is even killed in a conflict.


6)  Easy Rider (1969)
Directed by: Dennis Hopper
Genre: Drama | Adventure
Rating: R

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When Easy Rider was released in 1969, it started an entirely new movement in the filmmaking industry known as American New Wave. Before the film’s release, movies were almost entirely studio-produced which meant the studio (i.e Universal Pictures or 20th Century Fox to name a few contemporary examples) had complete control of a picture. American New Wave broke the mold and encouraged directors/filmmakers to make their own films on their own budget without a studio backing them (ie. independent film). This allowed filmmakers complete creative freedom (on a generally lower budget).

Easy Rider isn’t only a protest against the American studio system, but the film’s content is a comment on the ways in which humans often ostracise and otherise one another.

Synopsis
Wyatt (Peter Fonda) and Billy (Dennis Hopper), two Harley-riding hippies, complete a drug deal in Southern California and decide to travel cross-country in search of spiritual truth. On their journey, they experience bigotry and hatred from the inhabitants of small-town America and also meet with other travelers seeking alternative lifestyles. After a terrifying drug experience in New Orleans, the two travelers wonder if they will ever find a way to live peacefully in America.


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7) Thelma and Louise (1991)
Directed by: Ridley Scott
Genre: Drama | Adventure
Rating: R

Thelma and Louise is one of the first films that cast females (in starring roles) as runaway outlaws. The film has been praised by critics as one of the most impactful feminist films to date. Thelma and Louise is a commentary on chauvinism and toxic masculinity.

Synopsis
Meek housewife Thelma (Geena Davis) joins her friend Louise (Susan Sarandon), an independent waitress, on a short fishing trip. However, their trip becomes a flight from the law when Louise shoots and kills a man who tries to rape Thelma at a bar. Louise decides to flee to Mexico, and Thelma joins her. On the way, Thelma falls for sexy young thief J.D. (Brad Pitt) and the sympathetic Detective Slocumb (Harvey Keitel) tries to convince the two women to surrender before their fates are sealed.


8) Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (1953)
Directed by: Howard Hawks
Genre: Comedy
Rating: Not Rated

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In arts and literature, the male gaze is the act of depicting women from a masculine, heterosexual perspective that presents and represents women as sexual objects for the pleasure of the male viewer.

Gentlemen Prefer Blondes turns the male gaze on its head by using the camera to show us what women (albeit only straight, able-bodied, “traditionally beautiful”, white women) want to see instead of what men want to see. Although this film is somewhat outdated, at the time, Gentlemen Prefer Blondes was a huge step cinematically because it spoke to female viewers first and attributed the main female characters a complexity that wasn’t present in other films.

Synopsis
Lorelei Lee (Marilyn Monroe) is a beautiful showgirl engaged to be married to the wealthy Gus Esmond (Tommy Noonan), much to the disapproval of Gus' rich father, Esmond Sr., who thinks that Lorelei is just after his money. When Lorelei goes on a cruise accompanied only by her best friend, Dorothy Shaw (Jane Russell), Esmond Sr. hires Ernie Malone (Elliott Reid), a private detective, to follow her and report any questionable behavior that would disqualify her from the marriage.


9) The Crazies (1973)
Directed by: George E. Romero
Genre: Horror
Rating: R

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Anyone who is marginally into cinema hears the name George Romero and immediately thinks of his zombie films. Romero, however, has a portfolio of other works and has always hid political messages within his films. In The Crazies, Romero uses metaphor to highlight the ways in which the United States has been evolving into a militarized police state. This film came out during the Vietnam War and Romero, a pacifist, wanted to protest against violence and humanize “the enemy”.

Synopsis
A military plane crashes near a small town, infecting the water supply with a deadly virus that causes insanity then death. The army moves in to control the situation, only for the civilians to treat them as invaders and then infect them as well.


10)  Johnny Got His Gun (1971)
Directed by: Dalton Trumbo
Genre: Drama
Rating: R

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Johnny Got His Gun is clearly a protest film. The 1971 classic resists the the idea of war and highlights the horrors and suffering that follows these violent affairs. The film is an adaptation of the book (also by Trumbo) which was originally published in 1939 which was banned during World War II. Trumbo was blacklisted in the 1950s for the novel.

Synopsis
War has plunged Army soldier Joe Bonham (Timothy Bottoms) into an unending nightmare. Hit by an artillery shell in World War I, Joe has suffered injuries that have all but erased his humanity: he's lost his sight, speech, hearing and sense of smell. But he still has the ability to think and remember, which, in the end, may be more a curse than a blessing. Trapped in his body, Joe realizes there's only one way out of his misery: death. Can he get a sympathetic nurse to help him?

Open Projector Night Spotlight- Carese Bartlett (OPN People's Choice Award)

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Carese Bartlett's short film Refill is the most recent Open Projector Night Peoples' Choice Award Winner. We sat down with the filmmaker to learn more about her work, inspiration, and future projects

Who is Carese Bartlett? Give us a short bio.

I am a producer, writer and director based in Grand Rapids, Michigan. I moved around a lot when I was younger, but I have lived in Grand Rapids for a little over 10 years now. I always loved film, but did not think of it as a career until late in the game, so I did not get into filmmaking until I was almost 20 years old. I graduated from GVSU in 2015 with my degree in Film/ Video with an emphasis in Cinema Studies.

I really love stylistic filmmaking and focusing on stories that you don’t typically get to see. Most of the time, I produce and I’ve done everything from corporate to narrative and back again. I recently produced Mino Bimaadiziwin (2017), a Sundance Fellowship funded short film, and assistant directed Mud (2018), an official Sundance Short selection. I now work at S2S Studios, a production company completely focused on inclusion and diversity work for corporate and narrative projects.

What is your favorite film(s) and why?

A lot of my favorite films are on my favorites because I learned something new about filmmaking from each example. Overall, I wouldn’t say that I have a “favorite”, but I love these films because of what they taught me about filmmaking. Broadcast News for screenwriting and direction. The Apartment for character development and cinematography. Raise the Red Lantern for pacing, mood and how to use a wide shot for more than establishing a space. All About Eve for direction. Anything by Wong Kar-Wai, but especially In the Mood for Love. There are too many, but here are a few more favorites for good measure (Princess Mononoke, A Separation, Black Swan, Ladybird, Two Days One Night)

Who at what inspires Carese Bartlett?

I get most of my inspiration from the people that I’ve been fortunate to work with over the past few years. Grand Rapids is bubbling with a lot of untapped talent - a lot of extremely creative people. I love sharing ideas, script proposals, edits, etc. with people who just make films for fun, for the art and because they love it.  

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Tell us about Refill. What's the overall narrative?

Refill is about Nancy Miller, a 70 year-old retiree, who wakes up one day to find her anxiety medication empty. It doesn’t take long for Annie, Nancy’s anxiety in human form, to disrupt Nancy’s tranquil home. Annie’s restlessness forces Nancy to pull out all her coping tools in order to conquer the next twelve hours.

How did the project form and how did you get involved?

So, one of the nicest parts of my job is that every few months, we get to make a short film. This was the first official short film written by someone at my studio, S2S. We’ve done some collaborative projects with local filmmakers before Refill, but this was the first official S2S Studios short. As to how it formed, our owner essentially wanted to make a something narrative, and all of S2S’s projects focus on an underrepresented group or area of society. I really love seeing older women on screen, so it was a nice chance to write something from scratch for our studio, and have an older female character with a mental illness.  

What's your next project?

I’m currently in production for our next short film from S2S Studios. This time I’m Assistant Directing and Producing for Alyson Caillaud-Jones, a local director and S2S employee. It’s the story of a very talented French chef who moves to America and has to adjust to some unforeseen circumstances when she arrives. It’s set in the late-80s. Very fun, and it tackles a lot of great themes like outsiderness, perseverance and grit. It’s always fun to film in multiple languages.

Tell us about your first related film experience, what hit you and made you want to pursue the world of film?

For me, I always loved film. Almost obsessively, but I never thought of it as a career. I ended up attending a small private college as a Psychology major after high school. One day, I was in a Child Development class in the first week of the semester, and the professor was droning on about research, and statistics and clinical hours, and it just hit me that I hated Psychology. So I walked out of that class and down to the registrar and asked for anything open at the same time of day.

Apparently, someone had just walked in 5 minutes before and wanted out of Intro to Filmmaking. It was the only  open of class that worked with my schedule, so I signed up. I was about 2 class periods behind, and my first film professor was one of those guys that had to show you that he was the boss, even though your 19 and he has nothing to prove. So he was weird, and unhelpful about catching me up after missing the first class. I was sitting in class, and I had no idea what my professor was saying. I had missed the “intro to film jargon” lecture, but I did not care. 

As soon as we started talking about framing, color, lighting, low and high angles - I was done. I was completely hooked, and I did not care that he was not going to help me. I was going to teach myself. So to me, it was being able to see the mechanics of filmmaking in a class setting that shifted my perspective on film as a career.

From there, I keep to the same approach as that first class. There is a lot to learn from the people around you in the film industry, but they don’t know everything. So I continue to study and teach myself as much as possible. It’s worked out well so far.

Can you provide advice to aspiring filmmakers?

I would say watch a ton of films, from all over the world, and from filmmakers that have a different background from you. The more variety you can inject into your personal database, the better your work will be. Also, read scripts. There are hundreds of incredible feature film scripts available online. Read them, and train your brain to turn words to images and vice versa. And last one, learn to take criticism. Really take it, and sit in it. It’s very uncomfortable, but if you can hear people tear your work apart, and still hold to your choices and like them, you’ll learn to trust yourself.

If you were granted a large budget and could make your dream film, what would it be?

I would love to do a gigantic, genre-bending musical, like a punk- sci-fi - musical. I’d love to make something that heavily incorporates theater and music. No idea about the story, but it would have a largely female cast, and it would be wild. 

Any words about Open Projector Night?

If you’re a filmmaker, submit your film. If you’re a film lover, attend OPN. If you just want a cool community event with art made in your area, you should probably stop by. Open Projector Night is such a special event. It always a great time, and every single time, I’m impressed with the talent that OPN showcases right here in Grand Rapids.  

American Animals

By Beau Bowers

American Animals (2018) utilizes the magic of editing and the power of suspense to craft a classic heist flick. It hooks you in and doesn’t let go. From start to finish, writer-director Bart Layton takes us on a daring ride through the craving of wealth and the damage of regret.

Four college students. Twelve million dollars worth of books. One plan.That’s all it took to hatch one of the most audacious heists in history. There are many ways to tell this story, and Layton seems to have found the perfect one. Carefully blending a documentary film with the flare of action and drama, he chose to encapture this affair in a unique style. The film’s highlight is the editing - there were some moments that light up with sheer wit and brilliance. It’s isn’t afraid to set itself aside from a majority of cinema. The fourth wall is broken numerous times, but it feels as though the film was never even aware of a fourth wall, and even if it was, it wouldn’t bother acknowledging it. There’s nothing holding it back from doing what it wants to do. The characters are rebellious - and so is the film itself. That’s what makes American Animals so special.

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Not only does the film dive into what builds up to the heist, it also shows life after. It explores how not only are the character’s lives affected, but how their soul has been completely pulled apart and reassembled into someone they’re not. The strong performances make it even easier to show regret begin to manifest and slowly gnaw their original selves out of existence.

By blending the elements of numerous genres, American Animals flawlessly tells a story in a way that many films wouldn't even bother to attempt. Gimmicks and all, American Animals is a fascinating piece of film and perfectly captures the history behind it.

American Animals is screening in the UICA Movie Theater June 22 - July 5 2018.

Open Projector Night Spotlight- Mark Baas (OPN People's Choice Award)

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Mark Baas's short film Some Angels Fight is the most recent Open Projector Night Peoples' Choice Award Winner. We sat down with the filmmaker to learn more about his work, inspiration, and future projects

Who is Mark Baas? Give us a short bio.

I like helping people see things from a different perspective.
I like good communication.
I like solving problems.
I like minimalist design.
I am intensely curious and slightly particular. 
History is fascinating to me.  
I make a mean poached egg.
Lake Michigan is my happy place. 
I drive fast. 
I love my kids.
And after 17 years still think my wife is the best woman around.
I  like finding the perfect picture.
Three of my favorite things are June, July and August.

What is your favorite film(s) and why?

Adaptation.  I could relate to the main character who wrestled with contentment.  I enjoyed a fresh twist on a traditional format.

Who at what inspires Mark Baas?

Work that is beautiful and compelling.   

Tell us about Some Angels Fight. What's the overall narrative?

Leslie's story is about death and resurrection. She escapes the darkness only to return to it in order to set others free and in doing so finds freedom for herself.

How did the project form and how did you get involved?

A friend connected us with Leslie and her story was so powerful we knew we needed to make a film about it.   

What's your next project?

We are currently fundraising for a feature length documentary about mental health.

Tell us about your first related film experience, what hit you and made you want to pursue the world of film?

I found my life being changed by films and I wanted to do the same thing for other people.

Can you provide advice to aspiring filmmakers?

As the world grows more disconnected, our job as filmmakers is to create new and meaningful connections. Find stories that matter. Tell them to the best of your ability. And create films that make this world a little more empathetic. 

If you were granted a large budget and could make your dream film, what would it be?

We're pretty excited to make this documentary about mental health. I think this is a conversation we need to have in an effort to re-humanize and change the stigma about people who wrestle with mental health. Some of the most beautiful human beings I know wrestle with this the most. 

Any words about Open Projector Night?

We spend so much time in this world isolated with our devices. It's refreshing to come together in a physical space to enjoy and discuss something we all care about. 

Gabriel (2015)

by Nick Hartman

Writer and director Lou Howe delivers his debut film titled Gabriel, a low budget independent drama about a troubled kid starring, Rory Culkin. Gabriel follows a disturbed young man who is struggling to keep it together in the wake of his father’s suicide. Gabriel is released from an asylum and is in pursuit of a girl he once knew named Alice whom he hasn’t seen since childhood.

Gabriel struggles with mental illness and in his mind, in order to cope, he believes tracking down his childhood crush and marrying her will give him a chance to live a “normal life.” Throughout the film, Gabriel repeats, “I'm just gonna’ live like a normal person."

Throughout Gabriel’s search for Alice we’re also introduced to his mother and brother who are trying to keep him safe by making sure he’s taking his medication and by reminding him that any problem will only lead him back to the asylum for good. Gabriel continually stresses that he’ll behave and doesn’t want to go back but his desire to find Alice leads us to believe otherwise and we always find him on the run.

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Gabriel is one of my favorite films of the year and I really encourage people to see it. Gabriel is not only a well-constructed film that entertains the viewer from beginning to end, but Rory Culkin’s performance is undeniable. From the get go, Culkin completely dominates the screen with his uncomfortable charm and leaves you feeling a sense of sympathy and dread. One moment you feel for him and the next, you fear for everyone else around him. He does a fantastic job being dangerously innocent. Not only does Culkin deliver a fantastic performance, but the de-saturated colors and sound design of the film really bring Gabriel’s suffering to life. This is a must-see.

Catch Gabriel in the UICA Movie Theater from Jul 24 — Aug 6, 2015.  

Visit uica.org/gabriel for a list of show times.

Interested in participating in UICA's movie reviews? Contact Nick Hartman at nick@uica.org.

Taxi Driver (1976)

by Shirley Griffin, PR Director for the Thriller! Chiller! Film Festival

Martin Scorsese’s “Taxi Driver,” written by Grand Rapids native son Paul Schrader, and starring Robert DeNiro, Jodie Foster, and Harvey Keitel, is a story of a nowhere man who doesn’t fit in. And in this way, our awkward, anti-social leading man Travis Bickle (DeNiro), as John Lennon sang, is a bit like you and me.  

It’s the story of a Vietnam vet in 1970s New York City, who’s night shifting as a taxi driver in order to stave off insomnia.   Through Travis’s eyes we get a brutal tour of the underbelly of NYC in one of the seediest times in the city’s history and meet two women who fascinate him – the upper-crust angel Betsy (Cybil Shepherd) and the teen prostitute Iris (Jodie Foster).

Travis’s attempts to reach out to these women only lead to further alienation and his progressively disturbing acts inform us of his deeply troubled mentality. Put in the context of PTSD, we see a veteran trying and failing to return to a normal civilian life. Yet we can relate to him – not in actions, but in feelings – alone and stuck in a monotonous routine; rejected every time he reaches out; and disillusioned by the inability to find even one person who agrees with the things that matter to him most.

And this is what makes great art. Travis is an extreme example of fringe behavior and yet we can see him fully; feel what he feels; have empathy for his plight; and look to make better choices for ourselves when we experience loneliness in our own lives. The Cannes film festival jury agreed when they awarded this film its highest honor, the Palme d’Or, in 1976.

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Travis Bickle is a character that stands squarely amongst the great characters of American literature like Huck Finn and Holden Caulfield who are disaffected souls – smart, yet lonely and struggling with how to be a genuine person in a phony world. And in film history, “Taxi Driver” is the spiritual remake of John Ford’s western “The Searchers.”

Is “Taxi Driver” an exercise in existentialism – a disoriented man facing a confused world that he cannot accept?  Is Travis trying to cope in a world devoid of meaning, or rather is he the self-described man “who would not take it anymore” acting out the vengeance of an angry God, ala Old Testament fire and brimstone? Maybe both. You decide. 

Interestingly enough, by the time you get to the end, you may have more questions than answers and some terrific conversation starters. Again, this is a sign of great art. So buckle your seatbelt for the bumpy ride. If DeNiro’s performance doesn’t get to you, the notoriously bloody finale of this film, or Bernard Herrmann’s (“Psycho”) relentless score surely will.

See Taxi Driver with Shirley Griffin on August 2 as part of Brunch, Brews, and a Movie. Grab brunch at Grand Rapids Brewing Co. at 11:00am then head over to UICA for a screening at 1:00pm.

Additionally, catch Paul Schrader at UICA on September 3rd and 4th as part of the Visiting Film Artist Series.

Interested in participating in UICA's movie reviews? Contact Nick Hartman at nick@uica.org.

A Pigeon Sat on a Branch Reflecting on Existence (2015)

by Josh Spanninga

A Pigeon Sat on a Branch Reflecting on Existence is the final film in Swedish director Roy Andersson’s self-proclaimed “living” trilogy (preceded by Songs from the Second Floor and You, The Living). The films fit together nicely as a trilogy not in the sense that they follow the same narrative, but that they all feature Andersson’s dark sense of humor played out through absurd and grotesque situations, all seeking to answer the question of what it means to be human. 

Made up of a series of loosely connected vignettes, A Pigeon Sat on a Branch eschews conventional narrative storytelling. Instead it opts to explore the human condition through brief glimpses into its characters’ banal and ill-fated lives, often with uncomfortably hilarious results. In one scene we are introduced to a cashier who ponders what to do with a perfectly good shrimp sandwich and beer after the owner of the meal inexplicably keels over at the checkout; another more surreal scene shows a displaced King Charles XII of Sweden on horseback as he stops by a modern diner to quench his thirst with mineral water. 

Throughout the film these distinct, disparate episodes are set up in similar fashion. First, an unmoving camera focuses on a meticulously crafted set, brimming with dull, muted colors. Then our attention is drawn to pasty-white faces as they share small talk, quarrel and philosophize. The beautifully nuanced dialogue holds the viewer’s attention throughout, and no matter how trivial or dire the circumstances may seem, equal attention is paid to all characters and stories. Each scene unfolds almost like a live stage production, and builds up to a punch line that could just as easily consist of a fart joke as it could a severe misfortune. Andersson presents all of this with a surreal, dreamlike quality that expertly blends the extraordinary with the mundane.

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While many characters in the film breezily come and go, there are two recurring characters that connect these vignettes together: Jonathan and Sam, a pair of traveling novelty item salesmen. They weave in and out of scenes throughout the film trying to sell fake vampire teeth and other bizarre accessories (including a creepy mask that’s referred to only as “Uncle One-Tooth”). Once Jonathan and Sam show up it’s easy for the viewer to tag along with them as they wander through this absurd world, trying to make sense of the human condition. 

In short, it’s a safe to say that A Pigeon Sat on a Branch Reflecting on Existence isn’t your average film, but that’s exactly what makes it so great. With his eye for quirky details and impeccable comedic timing Andersson has managed to create a world that turns its characters’ woes into poignant comedy, a world that invites viewers to laugh along at life’s cruelty and irony, because in the end maybe that’s all we can do. 

A Pigeon Sat on a Branch Reflecting on Existence is screening at UICA from July 31 — August 13, 2015. Get a full list of showtimes at uica.org/a-pigeon-sat-on-a-branch.

Interested in participating in UICA's movie reviews? Contact Nick Hartman at nick@uica.org.

Tom at the Farm (2013)

by Ryan Gimarc (@RGimarc)

We join Tom (Xavier Dolan) as he visits the farmhouse of his now-deceased boyfriend Guillaume in rural Quebec. After an initially shocking and awkward introduction with Guillaume’s mother, Agathe (Lise Roy), Tom is welcomed into the household, albeit with a specific veil of secrecy: Guillaume’s brother, Francis (Pierre-Yves Cardinal), has ensured that Agathe holds no suspicions about Guillaume’s sexual orientation, and that Agathe is under the impression Tom is simply a coworker and close friend. Introductions aside, Francis begins a routine of physical and psychological battery on Tom, putting him in a place somewhere between a prisoner and a convert, and in the process opens himself and his past up to the emotionally loaded Tom. 

In many ways, Tom at the Farm fits neatly next to all of director (and writer, and actor) Xavier Dolan’s previous feature films. Thematically, the central conflict is the complex link between a mother and her son; this is more obliquely the case here, whereas Mommy or I Killed My Mother lend themselves most directly to this material. Content aside, the film also looks so assuredly Dolan-esque, with the picture a barely-noticeable amount darker than natural light would assume, as though the film were stitched together from a decade’s worth of memories, and the contents of the film are unfolding in hazy, half-remembered retrospect.

But just as the young, prolific director was aiming for, Tom at the Farm is indeed different. While his previous five films can perhaps be genre-cized as “dramas”, this film is more squarely described as a “thriller”, tapping into noir-psychological plot threads and even some erotic undertones. Like fellow Canadian Denis Villeneuve’s 2013 Enemy, Dolan’s film delights in darkness and patience, not afraid to scare you with a leaping body, but also enough of a tease to make you wait for it. Some of the most gratifying and heightened moments of the film feature Tom surveying the farm, half-expecting to see a figure on the horizon (with the audience fully expecting a visitor to surprise us from just out of the frame). Gabriel Yared’s soundtrack, which was almost excluded in the final cut, contributes to a classical, almost throwback atmosphere, reminding us (as well as Tom) that the farm is far away from the urban sprawl of Montreal, his more familiar surroundings.

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Conflict comes to The Farm on many levels: Tom attempts to play along with Francis’ game while still keeping his leveled sanity, while Francis is attempting to orchestrate the future of his now-smaller family with exact precision. As a small number of other characters enter the mix, further conflict is introduced faster than context (Francis and his buddies kick someone out of Guillaume’s funeral, and later Tom tries to pick up on some accidental remarks from a doctor regarding Francis and the family). These are carefully written (and adapted from a play) by Dolan and author of the stage version Michel Marc Bouchard, and complement the soundtrack and the misty atmosphere of the outside shots (nature plays a pivotal role during the film’s climax) to keep the tension notched consistently. 

Tom at the Farm first screened nearly two years ago at the 2013 Venice Film Festival, and shortly thereafter in the director’s home country at the Toronto International Film Festival. This UICA release is simultaneous with the New York and Los Angeles premiere of the film. Although several of his previous films have crossed Canada’s southern border via VOD (see: arguably Dolan’s best film, Laurence Anyways, on Netflix streaming), it took Tom at the Farm almost two years to garner a stateside distribution despite it being perhaps his most accessible film to date. Two years later, it is worth the wait. 

Catch Tom at the Farm at UICA from Aug 14 – 27, 2015, get a complete list of showtimes at uica.org/tom-at-the-farm.

Interested in participating in UICA's movie reviews? Contact Nick Hartman at nick@uica.org.