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 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. 

BAD*SS Women in Film

by Nick Hartman

I'm excited to announce November's line-up of films and here’s why. When booking films for UICA, I simply look for the best independent cinema that I can get my hands on. It’s not often that I curate the films we show in the UICA Movie Theater based on a theme, but November is a different story. This month, we’re honoring leading ladies by celebrating BAD*SS Women in Film. 

If it isn’t already obvious, strong female leads (especially in Hollywood) are rare and, unfortunately, many of the roles open to women are that of the girlfriend, the mother, or the wife, and the value of each character is often determined by the male lead. 

In a recent article, actress Emily Blunt was quoted saying, "I am always surrounded by men, which is fine, but it's also very telling that there just aren't enough stories written for females. But also just not enough characters.”

Needless to say, this is a major problem and one we need to address. To spread awareness and to celebrate leading ladies, I've tracked down three films that are fronted by strong, fearless, and powerful women to combat stereotypes often portrayed in film. Here’s a little more about the films we’re screening this November as part of our month-long celebration of BAD*SS Women in Film.

The Keeping Room is a female fronted western that's set towards the end of the Civil War. Three women find themselves trapped in their home and must defend themselves against two male Union Soldiers who are on a mission of pillage and violence. The women in this film take matters into their own hands and seek revenge on the males in the village who attempt to oppress them.

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The Assassin tells the story of a ten-year-old general's daughter who is abducted by a nun who trains her in martial arts and swordsmanship. As the young woman grows older, she is transformed into an exceptional assassin who is assigned to execute cruel and corrupt local governors. Not only does this film deliver a strong female lead, but also the cinematography and set design are absolutely stunning.

A Brave Heart: The Lizzie Valesquez Story is a heart-wrenching documentary about a woman who overcomes her congenital disease and inspires others with her bravery and perseverance. The first two films may have blazing guns, swords, and battles, but in my opinion, Lizzie Valesquez is the ultimate BAD*SS. The film recounts her difficult journey being bullied and labeled as “The World’s Ugliest Woman” because of her rare condition and follows her as she masters her new role as a motivational speaker on a quest to spread awareness about the dangers of bullying.

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Kill Bill Vol. 1. We’re showing the Tarantino classic for one night only in the UICA Movie Theater. This film is one of my absolute favorites. Kill Bill tells the story of The Bride (Uma Thurman), a former assassin who wakes up from a coma four years after her jealous ex-lover attempts to murder her on her wedding day. Fueled by revenge, she vows to get even with every person who contributed to the loss of her unborn child and entire wedding party.

The women in these films (fictional or not) can be appreciated for their character, for their actions, and for their strength. The value of these women is not determined by male counterparts or by stereotypes prescribed by society. We want to honor these important roles and characters and the BAD*SS women who represent them.

I hope you’ll all join us for the month of November as we celebrate a month of movies dedicated to BAD*SS Women in Film. Please visit uica.org/movies for a list of dates and show times.

Director’s Spotlight - Zac Clark (OPN People's Choice Award Winner)

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Zac Clark’s short film Private Slum was the Open Projector Night 18 People's Choice Winner. We sat down with the filmmaker to learn more about his work, inspiration and future projects.

Who is Zac Clark? Give us a short bio.

Zac A. Clark is from the Southwest Side of Chicago, who envies the homestead his grandparents built on the outskirts of Kalamazoo, MI. He has worked with Emmy-award winning filmmakers, Pulitzer-prize nominated photojournalists, had his photography featured at the Detroit Institute of Arts, and has worked around the continent. He believes in telling true stories, within fiction or non-fiction. He has worked with Emmy-award winning filmmakers, Pulitzer-prize nominated photojournalists, had his photography featured at the Detroit Institute of Arts, and has worked around the continent. He believes in telling true stories, within fiction or non-fiction.

Who and what inspires Zac Clark?

Who: Alejandro Jodorowsky, Nicolas Winding Refn, Stanley Kubrick, Wong Kar Wai, Richard Linklater, Reed Morano, and Natasha Brier.

What: a synesthetic approach to music

Tell us about your music video Private Slum. What's the overall narrative?

Alfonso Cuaron mentioned in his recent Cannes master-class that each of his films are like an ex-wife. Yes, I read that in nofilmschool.com. I'm going to steal the metaphor, but interpret a different meaning. There are four music videos I have directed and produced that are catharsis for relationships coming to an end in my life. Relationships with places and people. This film is about a relationship in reverse, two people covered and blinded at the beginning, bare at the end. It's a place that I wish our relationship had started at, rather than finished, gasping after struggle.

How did the project form?

Graham Parsons, the front man from the Kalamazoo based-band The Go Rounds whose music makes the foundation of the music video, had me taking photos for the band while they toured Mexico in summer of 2016. On a bus--which was really a tightly packed van--Graham suggested that we start another music video project for the band's new album, i promise i wont get hurt. (We had collaborated before on their song Lay With Love.) He had liked the idea of performance, and asked about exploring abstract dancing in this video, and from the back seat, Adam Danis, the band's drummer, creeped out yeah, and make sure its viscous. So I went from there.

What's your next project?  

Which one!? I just produced a tech-heavy music video project called Bones for the band Low Roar, which was a project created down in Mexico and directed by the cool Toño Trillo of Pause & Play. And Westra and I just completed a stoner nightmare music video, Into The Smoke, for the Austin metal band Destroyer of Light. The project I want everyone to check out is Small Town for Last Gasp Collective. We're premiering that project in Kalamazoo, June 23rd, at The Wellspring Theatre, before it hits the festival circuit. It's the last story I could tell in Kalamazoo, where I've created most of my films. (Links below!)

Can you talk about your creative process? Overall, explain to me from the point an idea is born to the finish product. What falls in between?

It almost always begins with music and sound and that causes images to start playing around in my head. I need to search out new songs and artists. A good dream journal will take me far, as well. I'll wake up every hour or so at night with visions free of self-doubt or criticism, jot them down on paper, and go back to sleep. Above all, I have to find a place of discomfort for myself. Filmmaking is problem solving.

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

Mufasa falling down the canyon wall into the stampede. I cried.

Honestly, all of my parents have been involved in performance and theatre. Film mimics theatre in many ways, but I believe it should an extension of performance.

I guess I am just their kid.

Can you provide advice to aspiring filmmakers?

Love your crew. Take care of them. Without them, you are nothing. Surround yourself with people who you believe are better filmmakers than yourself.

Any words about Open Projector Night?

I have shown my work at festivals since I was still a student at Kalamazoo College in 2013. Open Projector Night is the first to project it on a cinema screen, with accurate and vibrant color renditions, theater sound, plus we have moved beyond any skipping DVDs! I've never had the chance to see my work presented so honestly, as intended.

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

Ever seen "Jodorowsky's Dune"? Yeah. Something like that.

See more of Zac Clark’s work (and future projects) at the links below.

1. Bones by Low Roar, https://youtu.be/hprK_bVg2ro

2. Into the Smoke by Destroyer of Light, https://youtu.be/aAj8TZhOOZU

3. Small Town Premiere, http://www.lastgaspcollective.com/store/p1/Small_Town_Premiere.html


Want more of Zac Clark? You can find more of his work at: Facebook.com/clarkcamera

Open Projector Night Spotlight- Jose Jimenez (OPN People's Choice Award)

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Jose Jimenez short film Dreamer 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

Give us a short bio.

I am a Latino filmmaker born and raised in Los Angeles. I attended California State University, Northridge where I earned a Bachelor’s Degree in Cinema and Television Arts. I’ve produced, wrote, filmed, and edited a sports documentary series for Fox Deportes, an original series for PBS as well as short-form content for the digital startup Super Deluxe. In 2017, my wife and I decided to take on a new adventure and moved to Grand Rapids, Michigan.

Tell us your favorite film!

Cinema Paradiso.  The setting, music, and cinematography are just magical. I watch this film whenever I’m feeling a little down--it always makes me happy.   My second favorite film is La Bamba.  As a kid, I would watch it over and over--I wanted to be Richie Valens.  

Who and what inspires Jose Jimenez?

Family inspires me. My mom and dad moved to this country when they were 17 years old and did very well.  I owe everything to them.  Jorge Ramos, the award-winning journalist, has also been an enormous influence. I try to emulate his courage and tenacity.  I would love to work with him one day. Finally, I’m inspired by those who don’t have a voice in our world.  There are a lot of people who are not being heard and who are being silenced.  I want to tell their stories.

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

Dreamer is a film about a Native American struggling with survivor's guilt but finds redemption serving his fellow veterans. How did the project form and how did you get involved? Dreamer was originally part of a PBS original Series called Angeleno. Angeleno is a documentary series that tells the story of Los Angeles through the lives of its people.  Dreamer was the series finale, but we felt the show’s format limited his story, so we made it into a short film.

What's your next project?

I am working with a family-owned Mezcal company to create a feature-length documentary about the process and art form of Mezcal making. (Mezcal is a distilled alcoholic beverage made from various types of the agave plant native to Mexico). What I would like to do is start some form of a local news network that targets the Latino community in Michigan. There are some excellent publications already, but I want to take it a step further and keep the Latino community informed with in-depth stories that impact their community on a daily basis.

I understand that you produced, edited and filmed Dreamer. That’s a lot of roles to take on. Can you tell us about each responsibility and how your contribution shaped the film?

Producing a documentary piece like Dreamer is a lot of work. Being organized is crucial.  Filming someone like Dreamer is very unpredictable, and you have to be ready for anything. Filming Dreamer, I wanted to give the audience an insider’s perspective of what it is like to be homeless in Los Angeles. The director, Peter and I pushed for us to spend the night outside with Dreamer.  Los Angeles does have beautiful weather most of the year, with our luck we had to film on nights where it dropped down to the high 40s which is quite cold for Los Angeles.

We did spend a lot of time watching Dreamer’s interview, logging and marking sound bites.  There is a lot of editing that comes on paper before you even make a cut on screen. A lot trial and error, lengthy discussions, and disagreements with others on the team.  There is always some magic in the edit bay too. One example of that magic is I completely sound designed all the ambient noises, using sound effects and foley.  I truly believe that sound makes the difference between a good piece and a great one. I wanted the audience to feel like they were inside the Freedom Barbershop in Los Angeles.
 

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

In 10th grade, I took Mr. Russ’ Film Appreciation class, and I also took a screenwriting class after school, and the combination of those two changed my life. I remember our final project for Mr. Russ’ class was to create a movie.  I was so engrossed in the project that I convinced my parents to drive to Tijuana to shoot a scene. I remember editing on my PC for days at a time and hardly sleeping.  I just knew that this was what I wanted to do when I grew up.


Can you provide advice to aspiring filmmakers?

I think the best advice I ever received was to keep filming and never burn bridges.  The more you film, the more you get better, the more you learn.  Be nice to everyone. This industry is small, so word travels fast. You never know who is going to be your next boss or co-worker, so don’t be a jerk.

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

I would love to do a full-length feature documentary or a dramatic mini-series about the all Mexican-American infantry during World War II. I feel that certain groups of the so-called “Greatest-Generation”  are all too often forgotten, not celebrated or sometimes Americans are unaware that they even existed. Anywhere between 500,000 to 750,000 Mexican Americans participated in World War II, and I think America needs to hear those stories.

Any words about Open Projector Night?

I think it is an excellent event for filmmakers to share their work. Coming from LA, where I feel cinema though celebrated, carries a sense of exclusiveness. Having an event where you could submit your art and be able to see it on a big screen is such a great experience.

Raw

By Sarah Vesely

RAW (2016) is a film unlike any other. Marketed in broad strokes of gratuitous gore and the feminist agenda, this film is actually quite digestible (pun partially intended) for cinephiles of many types. Note that yes, this is a graphic film and not for the faint of heart, but the graphic content is not cheap or gimmicky as seen in Hostel or others of the “gore porn” era. The graphic content is tasteful (oh boy) in that it’s a fantastic metaphor for body awareness and sexuality.

This coming-of-age story, centered around Justine, a young vet school student, is told through meticulous editing, careful art direction, and impeccable cinematography. Writer and director Julia Ducournau executes this film with seemingly effortless care. The visuals in the film unify the story just as well as the Dude’s rug tied his room together: the viewer gets a sense of the pressure and confinement Justine feels as a freshman in med school through the labyrinth-like architecture and puzzling layout of the campus. The subconscious psychology of the layout of the film alone seems to give a quiet nod to the impossibility of the Overlook Hotel’s floor plan in Kubrick’s 1980 classic, The Shining.  Even beyond the production design, various moments of intimate framing and unique angles amplify Justine’s inner turmoil, making this all the more a successful psychological thriller as well as horror.
 

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Recurring throughout the film is the parallel of humans to animals in an assembly line, heartless science kind of way. Don’t get me wrong-- this is not secretly a PETA film; it’s that the metaphors and underlying theme of the film are a fantastic commentary on how humans are just statistics and stereotypes, churned out like cows in a slaughterhouse, in the eyes of today’s culture and media. However, RAW focuses in on a young woman discovering her true self and becoming hyper aware of her own body. On the surface, yes, she craves raw flesh, but the subtext of that is the taboo around sex and sexuality. Justine craves the secular flesh, as it were. But the message of sex and sexuality in this film is not as one would expect. There is no meet-cute, there is no slut shaming, and there certainly is no grandiose rom com hook up. Instead, Justine’s second puberty, as it were, is a ride on a different crimson tide (sorry, not sorry). Befittingly yes, the menstrual color red is symbolic in this film for change: change in character, change in maturity, and change in tone.  Julia Ducournau’s RAW is modern cinema at its finest, turning sexist cinema on its head.

The film has several subtle nods to staples of cinema, such as Psycho and The Godfather, and plays well into traditional movie structure. The horror elements are there, but not overbearing. The graphic scenes are visceral and disturbing, yet they are an integral part of the film. The score has subtle notes(puns again!) of Phillip Glass, Michael Nyman, and others, as well as fitting blends of modern music. RAW is well-orchestrated masterpiece, and absolute a must-see film for all movie lovers.

Raw is screening in the UICA Movie Theater May 19th - June 8th 2017.

The Happiest Day in the Life of Olli Mäki

By Patrick Feutz

Want to see boxing fans’ jaws hit the mat? Show them Juho Kuosmanen’s The Happiest Day in the Life of Olli Maki, a sports biopic that charts the days leading up to the titular real-life boxer’s infamous 1962 World Featherweight Title bout with reigning champ Davey Moore. Just don’t tell them about the scene when two days before the big fight, Olli stops in his tracks to fly a kite he found in the woods when he should be trying to make weight. Because this isn’t your average sports flick about rivalry, pride, or overcoming the odds. Nor is it the kind of biopic full of dark secrets and personal tragedies that fuel its subject’s professional success. Instead, it’s a delightful, totally artistically free look into the private life of a boxer who shies away from promoting the biggest fight of his life thanks to falling in love. You could call it the anti-Rocky if you weren’t afraid none of your sports-fan friends would want to see it, but then again, this is a movie that caters to the kind of people who eat it up when their idol claims the proudest moment of their life is when they got married.

 

Aside from his talent for boxing, small-town boxing sensation Olli Maki (Jarrko Lahti) is introduced as the epitome of the down-on-his-luck everyman. His car won’t start in the first scene, he’s dropped down to featherweight class so his manager Elis Ask (Eero Milinoff) can arrange the big fight, and he hunches, making his short stature all the more glaring, particularly when placed next to a leggy model for a photo shoot. Kuosmanen shoots in grainy black and white 16mm to achieve a simultaneously fresh and aged look, capturing the story of Olli’s ennui in a serendipitously period-specific New Wave style that emphasizes the bare, unfiltered truth, a choice made stronger by the presence of an in-film documentary crew who stage shots and hilariously applaud the awkward acting skills of Olli and Elis.

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Elis, played with a hidden desperation by the imposing Milinoff, can’t imagine what Olli could be upset about, and he misunderstands the uplifting effect made by Olli’s new girlfriend, Raija (Oona Airola). A distraught Raija gets it wrong too, leaving town to let Olli focus and bringing the story’s central conflict to a head. Lahti plays the heartsick Olli as a slouching, rudderless mess, unable to pretend to play the hero, and realizing too late that a pro boxer’s lot in life is as a source of other people’s entertainment. All three struggle with trying to live up to expectations, and their angst is thrown into relief against the dour visage of Finnish moneymen and the easy professionalism of Moore and his entourage. None are more uncomfortable in their own skin than Olli, though, who sees his passion for boxing hijacked by big business, and any care for his personal needs discarded.

All of that isn’t to cast a shadow over things. The Happiest Day is positively lighthearted and charming, a jaunty, verite portrait of a soul in torment that makes it easy for us to sympathize with our navel-gazing antihero and laugh while he single-handedly and unintentionally deconstructs the blustery power politics of professional sports swirling around him. Lahti and Airola are sweetness personified as a bicycling, stone skipping new couple, overflowing the measure of humanity needed for Kuosmanen to endear us to them while proving that a sports movie can mean nothing about sports and a biopic can have nothing to do with biography. By the same token, the movie reveals more about the sport and the man than any truer-to-fact telling could, and uses its finale to impart a more intense catharsis than a fistfight between two men ever could.

The Happiest Day in the Life of Olli Mäki is screening in the UICA Movie Theater June 30th - July 13th 2017.

Person to Person

By Patrick Feutz
Character is at the heart of all four-ish to five loosely connected vignettes in Dustin Guy Defa's New York City ensemble Person to Person. Each thread speaks to a different subset of viewers, marching to a different tune but all taken from the city's songbook. One could accuse Defa of cherry picking from the best of day-in-the-life New York cinema, co-opting the city's split personality of hustling to survive and navel-gazing neuroses to mimic narratives that have been warmed over seven times since Sunday, but he ties it all together with a breezy, quietly celebratory approach that's happy to report that, despite how small some of its characters' dramas might be, by God it's great that there's drama to be found anywhere. In that respect, the natural atmosphere he builds and channeling of chatty cinematic heavyweights like Woody Allen make for a film that washes over you, inviting you to appreciate, if you can, the idiosyncrasies of his characters one scene at a time, without giving too much thought to charting the action across each story.

Morning routines offer our first glimpse into the lives of the characters before their paths sprawl out in all directions. Waking up to face the new day is a wide roster of talent, ranging from old hands and familiar faces like Philip Baker Hall and Michael Cera to cult stars on the rise Abbi Jacobson and Tavi Gevinson, to very welcome newcomers like George Sample III and Bene Coopersmith. As coffees get shared and slugged, Defa plunks one aberration from the norm into each story, just enough to make us wonder how everyone copes down the line. How Jacobson will handle her first day as an investigative journalist under Cera's unhelpful direction. How record shop owner Coopersmith will come out at the end of a deal on a rare mint-condition record. How Hall will fare with a troubling watch repair. How Sample III will makes amends for a pretty darn unforgivable act. And how Gevinson will take a step toward understanding herself.

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As the youngest lead in the youngest leaning story, Gevinson (who's probably heard enough about her jaw-dropping resemblance to Scarlett Johansson) gets the most abstract dilemma as a moody teen who spends the day trading barbs with and avoiding the romantic machinations of her oversexed friend. On the opposite end of the spectrum are Jacobson and Cera, whose story of workplace alienation and quarter-life crisis shakes off any shade of nuance in favor of the zany deadpan the two specialize in. In between falls the rest of the material, which relays evenly between farce and sincerity and lets its actors completely inhabit their roles. Coopersmith (a record shop owner in real life, so that's easy) may unwittingly have to take the law into his own hands, but it's his enthusiastic quest for feedback on his new shirt and his ever-reaching optimism that wins you over. Comedy and tragedy are to be found in the smallest of details, be it a minor digression into a bit player's compulsion to gamble away the spare cash he earns out of the blue, or the way tears fall down a stony-faced Sample III's cheeks when he confronts the person he's wronged. Hell, one look at Philip Baker Hall and a lifetime of toil in the same neighborhood through the decades flashes before your eyes.

The success of Person to Person can't be attributed solely to its script, or its ensemble's delivery, or Defa's direction. It's not a landmark film, and there's nothing so revolutionary about it. It's simply in love with the ordinary, and it excels in pulling the surreal out of the banal. For the most part its characters aren't up to anything special. They collect things, fix things, and report things. They're on the margins. Skyscrapers tower in the distance as they mingle in parks or chase each other down alleyways. They think too much or not enough. They get by the best way they know how. On that note, it's easy to find one story in this collection that strikes a chord, whether it's in a teenager's struggle to accept herself, an elderly shopkeeper's determination to do right by his customer, or somewhere else in the lighthearted quotidian chaos of the big city.

Person to Person is screening in the UICA Movie Theater June 30th - July 13th 2017.

Director's Spotlight- Daniel Schippers (OPN People's Choice Award)

Daniel Schippers short film You Too was the Open Projector Night 19 People's Choice Winner. We sat down with the filmmaker to learn more about his work, inspiration and future projects.

Who is Daniel Schippers? Give us a short bio.

I am a Michigan native and live with my wife and two daughters. I started making short films in 2006 and started Cinema and Sugar. Time outdoors has always been time well spent to me. I am an avid fly fisherman, primarily for pike and the ever-elusive musky.

What is/are your favorite film(s) and why?

David Cronenberg’s Naked Lunch, Terrence Malick’s Badlands and David Lynch’s Eraserhead are the first to come to mind. These are favorites mostly because they’re so visually strong. There isn’t enough dialog in the world to create the sensation I get with the imagery in these films.

Who and what inspires Daniel Schippers?

Bruce Bickford is an amazing animator and has an unnatural level of patience. I admire his solitude and the way he single-handedly creates these bizarre worlds. There is a documentary on him called Monster Road that is totally worth checking out. Beyond that, inspiration for me can come in waves. There have been times I’ve been uninspired for a huge amount of time. Sometimes it floods in. When I’m in a creative rut, its probably time to get out for a bit and see something new in the world. Anything. Something as simple as driving to a small town I’ve never been to or a finding a new chunk of woods to walk through can get things going again.

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Tell us about your film You Too. What's the overall narrative?

You Too is a pretty simple story. It’s about the best of friends spending the day fishing together. Though their catches are polarized, the two friends remain close.

How did the project form?

I had wanted to rotoscope a project and developed the look and behavior of the characters. I knew before the story came that it would be narrated and the characters would open their mouths as though delivering the line as well as having 3 fingers on each hand and 5 teeth. It stemmed from these really bad drawings that were my best efforts of illustrating people as lifelike as possible and the results were laughable. So I wanted to play into that. During that time Steven Bakker and I met up to write a new short. I think we spent maybe the better part of an hour outlining the story and by the end of it I knew I wanted to apply the look that I was working on. It is very much based on our friendship. A lot of the dialog came from our many conversations. Because it is so innocent in nature I wanted the narration to be in the same vein as a children’s book like “Frog and Toad”. They’re best buds as well. We did a number of tests on what would be the right rotoscoping method. The consensus was that it had to be done on paper with sharpies rather than digitally. Once everything was shot and recorded it was just a matter of drawing it.

What's your next project?

My next project will be predominately experimenting with a couple animation techniques. If things go well, then writing a story that suits the approach. I also am itching to make a live-action project that has been on my mind for some time now. Everything is in its infancy stage, which has always been one of my favorite parts of the process.

Can you talk about your creative process? Overall, explain to me from the point an idea is born to the finish product. What falls in between?

For me everything starts with two primary ideas: how I want it to look/sound and what the actual content will be. They should behave like a healthy marriage and compliment each other. I like to experiment with looks ahead of time. It was particularly important in the case of You Too. All of this pre-production work is the backbone for all of what’s to come. Artistic decisions made in production and post come a lot easier when you know the foundation thoroughly. I have learned from many mistakes where projects did not blossom as I had hoped simply because I did not have enough ground work done ahead of time.

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

This moment is crystal clear. It was in 2003 and Mathew Barney’s Cremaster Cycle came to Grand Rapids. I went to Cremaster 3 for a class I was in at the time. I walked out of the theater in disbelief. I had no idea there were films like that in the world. It flipped a switch in my brain. It was gorgeous, and equally grotesque at times. To this day, I cannot articulate why or how it impacted me so greatly which is the exact reason I loved it so much.

Can you provide advice to aspiring filmmakers?

Have a good balance between healthy criticisms and allowing yourself to make mistakes. Projects are bound to not shake out as you hoped but get right back on the horse. Also, get used to putting your work out for people to see. Utilize opportunities like Open Projector Night.

Any words about Open Projector Night?

Open Projector Night was fantastic. My only regret is not knowing about these sooner. It was the perfect platform to see local filmmakers showcase their work.  The films were so unfiltered and honest which was driven home by the open dialog with the audience at the end.

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

It would most definitely be a fantasy-adventure film with lots of practical effects, highly detailed puppets and copious amounts of slime.

The Bad Batch

By Mitch Anderson

Terms like “visionary” and “the next big thing” are thrown around entirely too often in the world of independent and low-budget cinema, to the point that it can almost feel dull when a new filmmaking talent is widely described as such. These labels are particularly numbing in the modern film climate, where a striking low-budget debut usually means an immediate vault into blockbuster fare huge in scope but whimpering in creativity, as one promising young filmmaker after another becomes a studio cog whose decisions are entirely at the whims of faceless executives and shareholders more concerned about brand management than quality product. Fortunately, in only two films, writer/director Ana Lily Amirpour has not only dodged this mechanistic fate, but has proven herself worthy of independent filmmaking’s loftiest terms. That’s not to say that Amirpour, after turning heads with her 2014 debut A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night, hasn’t massively expanded her scope and ambition for her sophomore feature The Bad Batch. In fact, the film is that too-rare beast; a burst of pure imagination and originality that still functions as proof that its writer/director is more than ready to play in a bigger sandbox.

The film stars Suki Waterhouse as Arlen, a young woman who, in the first shots of the film, is dumped and abandoned in fenced-off Texas desert territory, marked by a sign reading that the land beyond it is no longer considered property of the United States. Venturing forth on her own, it isn’t long before Arlen is chased down by golf-cart-riding cannibals, captured, and separated from an arm and a leg. After devising a… resourceful escape plan, Arlen makes her way to Comfort, a settlement in the desert whose titular promise seems contradicted by the despondent and insane who line its streets. Still, at least the cannibals are kept out. Several months later, having fashioned a makeshift leg and adapted to life with one arm, Arlen sets out on a mission of revenge, resulting in an odyssey which includes raves, adopted pet rabbits, portraiture, hallucinogens, and the warring attentions of two men known as Miami Man (Jason Moama), the leader of the cannibals, and The Dream (Keanu Reeves), the enigmatic leader of Comfort whose plans may be more nefarious than he lets on.

 

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If this all sounds like a recipe for an ambitious but overstuffed misfire, it’s because the film could so easily become one. But Amirpour announces her confident style early and never abandons it over the film’s sprawling-yet-thrilling 115 minutes. The first act of the film, depicting Suki’s abandonment, capture, and escape, is almost entirely dialogue-free, Amirpour instead packing her striking widescreen frames with detail and visual information. Though the film’s dialogue gets the job done (Reeves in particular delivers every line in a gleefully dry Jim-Jones-esque stupor), it’s in the visuals that the true story of the film plays out, from Miami Man’s always-visible eponymous chest tattoo to a character known only as The Hermit, a silent wanderer of the desert whose alliances shift in seemingly every scene (played by Jim Carrey in top-form vaudeville pantomime). After her debut’s black-and-white cinematography, it’s easy to see Amirpour savoring the chance to use color, filling her desert vistas with dusty neon and day-glo; Sergio Leone by way of Harmony Korine. Additionally, the film is driven beginning-to-end by a killer soundtrack, spanning the electropop spectrum from Die Antwoord to Culture Club, and bracing sound design; Amirpour’s real-life partial deafness drives her soundscapes just as Nicolas Winding Refn’s colorblindness drives his visuals. This is a film to watch loud.

All of this is engaging and entertaining on a surface level, but it wouldn’t add up to much without Amirpour’s command of tone and the clear abundance of ideas at play here. The social implications of a group of people cruelly cast out of society are more than potent, particularly in the current political climate, and while Amirpour doesn’t spell out for us what exactly happened to allow America to reach this sorry state, hints of everything from plain-faced intolerance and bigotry to nuclear fallout are dropped. Coupled with the eventual reveal of The Dream’s true plans for Comfort, the unforced glances at class and race within this society of scavengers (particularly complicated by Amirpour’s point-of-view as an Iranian-American), and the notion of “kill or be killed” morality, The Bad Batch is about the furthest from a “message” movie as you can get. Indeed, the film’s unforgettable final shot would feel like a mean, nihilistic joke, were it not for the clear feeling and passion in everything that precedes it.

The Bad Batch is a gonzo low-budget blockbuster, a dispatch from an alternate world where ambitious, large-scale films for the adult crowd are plentiful and allowed to co-exist with popcorn fare, and its mixed reception here only seems to prove how unprepared our current environment is for such bursts of pure, unrestrained creativity. The film moves with the confident abandon of a proven veteran, making its status as only its writer/director’s second feature even more remarkable. In this just world, Ana Lily Amirpour’s name would be at the top of every studio’s consideration list for the next entry in their major franchise. However, in a truly just world, she would be allowed to continue to make films as bizarre, striking, and downright entertaining as this.

The Bad Batch is screening at the UICA Movie Theater August 18th – 30th.

A Ghost Story

By Mitch Anderson

A Ghost Story is a film where talking about “what” happens in it is not nearly as important as talking about “how” things happen in it. Indeed, the “what” that happens could fit into a few sentences: a married couple, known only to us as C and M (Casey Affleck and Rooney Mara, respectively), experience disagreement and tension over C’s reluctance to leave their house behind as they prepare to move. When C is killed in a car accident on the street outside the house, he returns as a spirit to inhabit the house from beyond, watching M’s grieving, acceptance, and eventual move, before being a silent witness to the succession of the house’s occupants after her departure.

Again, the film’s “plot”, as it were, is relatively easy to describe. However, the film’s immense beauty and profundity rests in writer/director/editor David Lowery’s framing of the story (this is meant only partially as a pun; the entire film is framed by a 1:33:1 aspect ratio, “boxing” the image and making the frame look almost like an old photograph). Lowery, who has always been an open book in regards to his influences and who has directly stated that the tone and feel of A Ghost Story is an homage to the “slow” cinema of international directors such as Apichatpong Weerasethakul and Pedro Costas, asserts his command over the viewer early on, and prepares us for the film’s progression into increasingly ambitious territory (even though the plot description given above lays out the basics of the story, it is very much worth entering this film knowing as little about its latter story as possible. Rest assured, any plot points of this kind will only be vaguely discussed in this review). It’s not that he doesn’t give us room to breathe; in fact, we have almost too much room to breathe.

Even before C’s death and return, Affleck and Mara are framed in beautiful, mostly silent tableaus. An early shot of the two lying in bed and holding each other lasts past the point of comfort, instinctually making you wonder what is going to happen to resolve the moment. But nothing does; eventually, you begin to study every detail about the shot; the bends of Affleck and Mara’s arms, the nuances of their faces, present even in sleep. The way they lie in bed, Mara’s body bent slightly towards Affleck’s. That’s to say nothing of the already infamous “pie scene”, in which we watch Mara’s M, in the midst of silent, almost passive grief, sit on the floor of her kitchen and, in a single, unbroken shot, eat almost an entire pie given to her as a condolence, as the phantom C watches on in the background.  This five-minute shot is A Ghost Story in a nutshell; pondering without crossing the threshold into punishing, emotionally complex, and slyly underlined by humor.

Regarding this last point, it is to the film’s credit that one can discuss it at such length before even touching on its core visual gambit; C’s ghost is represented by his body being covered by a hospital bedsheet with eyeholes, not unlike the costumes worn by the children in It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown. However, it is a credit to Lowery’s mastery of tone that if you remain hung up on this detail, A Ghost Story is likely not for you. Additionally, credit must be given to Casey Affleck’s performance as the ghost (and supposedly he was underneath the sheet the entire time during filming), a pantomime built entirely through careful movement and restrained body language, blending into the space of the house and standing out from his surroundings with equal skill. It is simply remarkable that a “face” consisting only of a pair of eye holes can clearly express so many emotions with no dialogue. And I would be remiss to not mention Daniel Hart’s string score, a cacophonous, at times unsettling, at most times unbearably gorgeous piece, to say nothing of “I Get Overwhelmed”, a song by Hart’s band Dark Rooms that is repurposed here as a composition by Affleck’s character that takes on cosmic significance as the film progresses.

Ultimately, A Ghost Story’s true star is Lowery himself. A brazenly experimental tone poem meditating on themes of loss, legacy, and the physical manifestations of emotion, the film represents a major leap forward for a filmmaker already blazing a distinct, impressive trail after only three feature films (it isn’t necessary to know going in that literally days after wrapping post-production on his big-budget, fantastic Pete’s Dragon for Disney, Lowery and a skeleton crew traveled to Texas to film A Ghost Story, but it helps). In a style already hugely informed by storytelling and its influence, A Ghost Story symbolizes a filmmaker more than ready to leave his stamp on the modern cinema scene. Patient, ambitious, and deeply moving, A Ghost Story is easily one of the best films of 2017.

A Ghost Story is screening at the UICA Movie Theater September 1st – 19th.

My Friend Dahmer

Calm, cool, collected; curious, contemplative, capricious. Jeffrey Dahmer is a boy like many we all knew in high school: Quiet, yet bright. Serious, yet humorous, in an absurdist way. Marc Meyers’ film My Friend Dahmer gives us a glimpse into Jeffrey’s formative years, on the cusp on discovering himself on more than one level.

This coming-of-age film is reminiscent of Gus Van Sant’s Elephant (2003), in that the viewer almost feels a bit of sympathy for this inevitably malevolent character. But instead of being a true crime adaptation of the guilty pleasure, dark and disgusting criminal acts of Jeffrey Dahmer, this film takes a more psychological and contemplative approach to peeling back the layers of his life. Between the atmospheric score by Andrew Hollander (Waitress, 2007) and the calm cinematography of Daniel Katz (Funny Games, 2007), this film is a slow burn, not unlike the weak acid he uses to dissolve the flesh of his latest roadkill finds.

Ross Lynch’s performance as Dahmer is a fantastic surprise. Considering his extensive background with Disney and family-friendly films alike, this dark and introspective role could have easily been over-acted. But the way he melts into his character is as curious and meditative as Dahmer himself.

My Friend Dahmer is a wonderfully hypnotic, disturbingly compelling coming-of-age film with a poisonous twist. Like driving past an accident, only to have the firetruck block your vantage point, Dahmer’s story will leave you cautiously curious. His troubled teen years will feel distantly relatable, tugging at your teen angst heartstrings, while still subconsciously waving red flags of psychopathic warning. And like the slow, warm burn of hydrochloric acid, this foreboding film will slither under your skin, and simultaneously fascinate and disturb you.

My Friend Dahmer  is screening at the UICA Movie Theater November 11 - November 21