Tag Archive for alumni films

Documentary by Bricca ’93 Premieres This Month in Montana

Jacob Bricca '93

Jacob Bricca ’93

Tatanka, directed by Jacob Bricca ‘93, will have its world premiere at the Big Sky Documentary Film Festival in Missoula, Montana on February 22, 2014. Big Sky is one of America’s premiere documentary festivals with over 20,000 visitors/year, and the film will be screening alongside such critically lauded films as Citizen Koch, I Am Divine, and Gore Vidal: The United States of Amnesia.

Film poster for Tatanka, directed by Jacob Bricca '93

Film poster for Tatanka, directed by Jacob Bricca ’93

In the film, based on his own experiences, Bricca, the son of a sixties activist, confronts the enigma that is his father Kit, a man whose uncompromising idealism helped build a movement but nearly tore his family apart. As Bricca follows his father—who had stints as a commodities broker and an insurance salesman before changing his name to Tatanka—on a series of encounters with evangelists, healers and inventors, each must come to terms with the other—and with the meaning of their dreams. The film features Joan Baez, Cesar Chavez, Dolores Huerta, and Daniel Ellsberg.

Tatanka web site with trailer

Bricca shares some thoughts about his new work:

“As a child of ‘The Movement’ I grew up with a profound sense of idealism, but also of loss.  My father worked tirelessly for progressive change and I always assumed that at some point he would pass the baton to me, but by the time I came of age the country’s politics had shifted radically to the right, and that heady sense of collectivism from the ’60s and ’70s was gone. What’s more, my childhood faith in my father’s eternal good judgment had been questioned by insinuations from friends and family members about hidden financial debts and broken promises. After he changed his name to ‘Tatanka,’ I decided I needed answers.

“I wanted to make a film that could answer my own questions about my father’s identity and also portray the profound questions that many of us ask ourselves every day: what is the right path to take between idealism and practicality? Where is the line between dreams and delusions? In my father’s story lives the power of individuals to make profound change, but also the heartbreak of broken dreams and the bittersweet tension of expectations between parents and their children.

“There are also a lot of interesting issues related to documentary ethics in the making of this film. I wrote an essay critiquing the soiling of ‘serious’ documentary by Reality Television but found myself confronting some ethical dilemmas of my own. My father and I went through a pretty serious crisis in our relationship at one point in the making of the film, because he didn’t understand my point of view. Thankfully we moved past it, and we are probably closer now that we were before because of it, but it was not a clear-cut issue. Should I have waited until the rough cut to show him exactly how he would be portrayed? Did I have a responsibility to show him as he wanted to be shown vs. how I wished to portray him? I made some changes, but none that I felt compromised the integrity of the story. It’s a story about acceptance, and part of it is my acceptance of him. I also became much clearer about what I valued in him because of making the movie. His delightful energy, his generosity, his sense of play, and his determination are all things I admire about him, even as we still disagree about many things.”

Tatanka is Bricca’s second feature-length film, his first being the 2006 Indies Under Fire, a documentary focusing on the plight of independent bookstores.

Bricca is an assistant professor in the University of Arizona’s School of Theatre, Film, and Television. He previously taught film production at Wesleyan. More on the filmmaker.

Medley ’73 Offers Commentary on How to Survive a Plague DVD

Ron Medley '73

Ron Medley ’73

Ron Medley ’73 is a featured speaker in the hour-and-a-half commentary on the DVD of How to Survive a Plague, (Sundance Selects), a highly acclaimed documentary directed by David France that was nominated for an Academy Award. (Medley also appears briefly in the movie.) The film tells the story of the brave men and women in two coalitions—ACT UP and TAG (Treatment Action Group)—whose activism and innovation turned AIDS from a death sentence into a manageable condition.

Ron Medley '73 provides commentary on DVD.

Ron Medley ’73 provides commentary on DVD.

Despite having no scientific training, these improbable, self-made activists infiltrated the pharmaceutical industry and helped identify promising new drugs, moving them from experimental trials to patients in record time. With access to remarkable, never-before-seen archival footage from the 1980s and ’90s, filmmaker David France takes the viewer upclose to the controversial actions, the heated meetings, the heartbreaking failures, and the exultant breakthroughs of heroes in the making.

Film web site

Indie Film By Schaefer ’94 To Make Limited Theatrical Release

Stefan Schaefer ’94

Stefan Schaefer ’94

My Last Day Without You, an indie romance film written and directed by Stefan Schaefer ’94, will be making a limited theatrical release through AMC Theaters on Oct. 4. The movie centers on a German business executive (Ken Duken) who falls in love with a Brooklyn singer-songwriter (Nicole Beharie) after a chance encounter on a short business trip to New York City.

After winning a Black Reel Award for Best Independent Film and a Certificate of Excellence from the Brooklyn International Film Festival for Best Producer, My Last Day Without You will open in Atlanta, Seattle, Washington, DC, Chicago, and New Orleans. Schaefer has over 15 feature film credits to his name as well as being the co-founder of the production company Cicala Filmworks. In addition, he is the writer and director of the upcoming documentary Even Though the Whole World Is Burning, on poet laureate and two-time Pulitzer winner W.S. Merwin.


Shmuger ’80, Junger ’84, Dosa ’05, Shane ’05 and Wilson ’05 Work on Documentaries Screened at Sundance

Five alumni have contributed to exceptional documentaries that were shown this January at the Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah.

Julien Assange, founder of WikiLeaks, in “We Steal Secrets.” Marc Shmuger ’80, producer. (Photo: Focus World)

Marc Shmuger ’80 is one of the producers of We Steal Secrets: The Story of WikiLeaks, which had its premiere at Sundance. Directed by Academy Award-winning documentary filmmaker Alex Gibney, the film is an in-depth study of all things related to WikiLeaks and the larger global debate over access to information. It tells a compelling story of what happens when a small group of people decide to break open the intelligence vaults of the world’s most powerful nation. The director uncovers a tangled web of incredible bravery, high ideals, questionable ethics, and stunning hypocrisy.

In his Hollywood Reporter review, David Rooney writes: “Unfolding like an espionage thriller but with a methodical journalistic skill at organizing a mountain of facts, the film raises stimulating questions about transparency and freedom of information in a world in which governments and corporations have plenty to hide. It should be a magnet for op-ed coverage when it goes out mid-year theatrically and on digital platforms from Focus World.”

Tim Hetherington, center, subject of “Which Way Is The Front Line from Here?” Sebastian Junger ’84, director and cinematographer.

Sebastian Junger ‘84 is the director and co-cinematographer of Which Way Is the Front Line from Here?: The Life and Time of Tim Hetherington which also had its premiere at Sundance. The late photojournalist and filmmaker Tim Hetherington always searched for the humanity within wartime conflict, as seen in his award-winning body of work.

He and Junger spent a year filming a platoon of U.S. soldiers in Afghanistan in their Academy Award–nominated and Sundance Grand Jury Prize-winning film Restrepo. Hetherington died from a mortar blast in Libya in 2011.

Junger artfully combines footage of Hetherington at work and interviews with his family, friends and colleagues to capture his compatriot and friend’s unique perspective, compassion, and intense curiosity about the human spirit.

In his Hollywood Reporter review, David Rooney writes: “Junger’s facility for sharp journalistic prose is an ideal complement to Hetherington’s instinctual visual sense. The director points out that war provides a unique experience of male camaraderie not reproducible in society. Eloquent illustrations of that are seen in Hetherington’s tender images of the platoon in Afghanistan, notably the incongruously idyllic ‘Man Eden’ and the ‘Sleeping Soldiers’ series, which unmasked the heavily inked tough guys as vulnerable boys. …The film seems very much an extension of Hetherington’s own complex internal dialogue concerning war, seeing conflict as something hardwired into young men that gets co-opted to become part of the political process.”

The film will air on HBO on April 18.

Robert Reich on the set of “Inequality for All.” Sara Dosa ’05, associate producer. (Photo courtesy Sundance Institute)

Sara Dosa ’05 is associate producer for Inequality for All, directed by Jacob Kobluth, which was screened as part of the U.S. Documentary completion and received the U.S. Documentary Special Jury Award in Filmmaking at Sundance.

The documentary is inspired by former labor secretary and current UC Berkeley Professor Robert Reich’s book Aftershock. Reich has argued passionately that widening income inequality poses one of the most severe threats to our economy and democracy.

Kornbluth and Reich examine such complex issues as wage stagnation, consolidated wealth, manufacturing, financial instruments, capital markets, globalization, and election politics. The film contains interviews with economists, politicians, and experts and documents the struggles of regular working people.

The film has been acquired by the Weinstein Company’s Radius label and was funded partly by individuals who gave money to Kickstarter.com.

A moment from “After Tiller,” directed by Martha Shane ’05 and Lana Wilson ’05.

Martha Shane ’05 and Lana Wilson ’05 are the directors of After Tiller, which was shown as part of the U.S. Documentary competition. Since the assassination of Dr. George Tiller in Kansas in 2009, only four doctors in the United States continue to perform third-trimester abortions; all colleagues of Dr. Tiller, they sacrifice their safety and personal lives in their unwavering conviction to help women. For some in the pro-life movement, these doctors are “murderers” who must be stopped.

After Tiller proovdes an upclose look into each of the four physicians’ private and professional struggles. The documentary includes wrenching scenes in the clinics, when they counsel distraught patients facing serious losses. Viewers are placed in the shoes of both practitioner and patient and are faced with the full complexity of each decision. Decades after Roe v. Wade, legalized abortion remains an extremely volatile issue in America.

At Sundance, Shane and Wilson received a $5,000 grant from Women in Film, as well as $1,000 worth of scheduling and budgeting software from Entertainment Partners. The two directors were recently interviewed about After Tiller at Democracy Now! and Indie Wire.


Garcia ’99 Has Debut Feature Film, The Lifeguard, at Sundance

Filmmaker Liz W. Garcia ’99

This January, Liz Garcia ’99 brought her first feature film, The Lifeguard, to Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah to be shown in the U.S. Dramatic competition. She directed, wrote, and co-produced the movie; her husband, Joshua Harto, is a co-producer and an actor in the film.

The Lifeguard follows a young woman (Kristen Bell, Veronica Mars) who leaves her job as an Associated Press reporter in New York City and returns to her hometown in suburban Connecticut where she last felt happiness. Complications arise as she rebels against adulthood by resuming her high school job as a pool lifeguard and hanging out with teenagers. In addition to Harto and Bell, the cast includes Mamie Gummer, Martin Starr, Alex Shaffer, Amy Madigan, and David Lambert.

Garcia recently talked to Indie Wire about the film.

Garcia said: “The film is about what it is to become an adult. How frightening it is when you realize you have only this one life, that the limitless possibilities and the freedom of childhood are through. And particularly, how frightening it is as a woman to realize what being a wife and being a mother, and being a mature woman in the eyes of society will mean….”

“I was raised in suburban Connecticut and that’s the setting that inspires me the most. Something about the seasons, the light, the false sense of immortality that comes along with growing up in an unsophisticated environment where you can’t get real drugs —

Feiffer ’07 Is Star and Co-Writer of Comic Film Shown at Slamdance

Halley Feiffer ’07 (right) and Michael Churnus in “He’s Way More Famous Than You”

Halley Feiffer ’07 is the star and co-writer (with Ryan Spahn) of the feature film of He’s Way More Famous Than You, which premiered in the dramatic competition at the Slamdance Film Festival in Park City, Utah in January.

The film is directed by Michael Urie, the star of Ugly Betty and Partners, and co-stars Urie, Spahn, Jessie Eisenberg (with whom Feiffer appeared in The Squid and the Whale), Natasha Lyonne, Mammie Gummer, Tracee Chimo, and Ralph Macchio.

Feiffer plays a struggling actress will stop at nothing to get her movie made in this sharp, satiric comedy about the film industry, which features some absurdist moments and a brave lead performance.

After being shown at the festival, the film was acquired by Gravitas Ventures. Plans are to show the film on VOD (video on demand) beginning April 8 followed by a theatrical run on May 10.

Halley Feiffer ’07 in “He’s Way More Famous Than You”

Feiffer sent a dispatch to Cinema Blend about her experiences while at Slamdance:

She wrote: “When I wrote the film with my friend Ryan Spahn, it felt very clear to us that we were writing a parody of our younger selves—two self-absorbed, insecure actors trying desperately to throw themselves against every wall, hoping something will stick. ‘Hahahaha!’ we thought – ‘It’s so funny how sad we used to be! And how not like that we are, now!’

“And yet, here I am in Park City, trying to drum up interest for my film amidst the avalanche of press being generated for the literally hundreds of other films being screened here, and suddenly it seems so tempting to let myself become that character I wrote again. Walking down Main Street here feels to a film fan how walking through Times Square must feel to a tourist, his first time in New York—everywhere you look there is something mind-blowingly exciting and so glittery and high-octane that it almost hurts to think about it.”

In an early review of the film at Twitch, Ben Umstead wrote: “The self-referencing and meta humor comes thick and fast, the cavalcade of A-listers, B-listers, and all the way down to Z-listers, comes stampeding in, game to blow up their egos with either cartoonish glee or straight-man sobriety. … He’s Way More Famous Than You does what it needs to do to make its audience happy. It makes them laugh. Quite a lot.”

Janvey ’06, Zeitlin ’04 on Campus for Q&A on Indie Filmmaking

Indie Film makers Benh Zeitlin ’04 and Dan Janvey ’06 meet with Jeanine Basinger on Nov. 12. (Photo by Cynthia Rockwell)

Indie Film makers Dan Janvey ’06 and Benh Zeitlin ’04 meet with Jeanine Basinger on Nov. 12. (Photo by Cynthia Rockwell)

Benh Zeitlin ’04, director of Beasts of the Southern Wild, and producer Dan Janvey ’06 joined Director of the Cinema Archives and Corwin-Fuller Professor of Film Studies Jeanine Basinger on Nov. 12 for a free-wheeling Q&A on the making of their indie hit, Beasts of the Southern Wild. The talk took place in the Goldsmith Family Cinema.

They began by showing a segment on the making of the film—“a world premiere,” they noted, adding that it will be included on the DVD when the film is released for home viewing. Currently the Sundance and Cannes award-winner is still showing in theaters and picking up Oscar-buzz. Zeitlin and Janvey provided candid answers on their background in the Film Studies department (teamwork was always key), grassroots methods of casting (similar to the Obama campaign), the rigors of the filming process in Louisiana (“like climbing Mount Everest”), the rewriting required to shoot the film only in the day (avoiding the costs of the lights and accommodating the young age of the main character), and the slow, organic process of joining the community, earning peoples’ trust, and winning cooperation.

“Every part of the process of making this film informed the next part,” explained Janvey. Stories people told were incorporated into the film, and new local friends became cast and crew. Said Zeitlin: “It’s my very favorite part of the film process, getting to meet a place you’d never get to know otherwise. It’s the universal quality of film—everybody loves movies; it’s a great way to explore the world.”

For further information, see this Wesleyan Magazine story.

Are you a Wesleyan alumnus? For more alumni stories, photo albums, videos, features and more, visit Wesconnect, the website for Wesleyan alumni.




Arnold ’91 Pens Book about Classic Film Lawrence of Arabia

Jeremy Arnold ’91

Writer and filmmaker Jeremy Arnold ’91 is the author of Lawrence of Arabia: The 50th Anniversary, published by Sony Pictures Home Entertainment. This special hardbound coffee table book is included in the recently released Lawrence of Arabia 50th Anniversary Collector’s Edition Blu-ray box set, also released by Sony. The 88-page publication contains full-color photographs, a history of the epic film’s significance, insight into the making of the movie (directed by David Lean), and editorial pieces by film directors Martin Scorsese and Steven Spielberg. The book is only available in this package and will not be sold separately. It also has been translated into four languages (French, German, Spanish, Italian).

Lawrence of Arabia 50th Anniversary 4K Restoration Trailer

Shane ’05 and Wilson ’05 Awarded Grant for New Documentary

Filmmakers Martha Shane ’05 and Lana Wilson ’05

Martha Shane ’05 and Lana Wilson ’05 have received a coveted grant from the Pare Lorentz Documentary Fund for their feature-length documentary After Tiller, which they directed and produced. The film deals with the aftermath of the assassination of Dr. George Tiller as the last four late-term abortion doctors in America confront harassment from protestors, challenges in their personal lives, and a series of tough ethical decisions.

After Tiller is one of five films that received this year’s grants, which are awarded to “projects that illuminate pressing problems in the United States.”

This year the International Documentary Association received grant applications from 216 filmmakers from across the United States and around the world. Submissions were judged on their objective research, artful storytelling, strong visual style, and high production values, as well as the reflection of the spirit and nature of Pare Lorentz’s work.

“This support comes at a crucial time for us–we have just begun submitting cuts of the film to festivals, and are now completing the original score with our composers, and preparing for color correction and sound mixing in December,” Shane and Wilson said. “With this grant, we now have only $71K left to raise to cover all of our finishing costs.”

If you are interested in making a donation to the film, click here.

Are you a Wesleyan alumnus? For more alumni stories, photo albums, videos, features and more, visit Wesconnect, the website for Wesleyan alumni.

Toronto Film Festival Showcases Films Directed by Cohen ’84, Springer Berman ’85, Whedon ’87

Kristen Wiig and Darren Kriss in Imogene, directed by Shari Springer Berman ’85 and Robert Pulcini

This year’s Toronto International Film Festival in September featured the North American Premiere of Museum Hours, directed by Jem Cohen ’84, and the world premieres of Imogene, co-directed by Shari Springer Berman ’85 and Robert Pulcini, and Much Ado About Nothing, directed by Joss Whedon ’87. All three films were well received by Toronto audiences and film critics.

Both Imogene and Much Ado About Nothing were picked up in Toronto by Lionsgate and Roadside Attractions for release in North America. MPM Film is handing international sales and The Cinema Guild has acquired U.S. distribution rights for Museum Hours.

Museum Hours deals with the friendship that develops between between Anne (Toronto multidisciplinary artist and singer Mary Margaret O’Hara), a Canadian woman who has come to Vienna to visit her comatose cousin, and museum guard Johann (non-professional actor Bobby Sommer). Anne finds refuge in the Kunsthistorisches Art Museum, and the two explore how their lives, the city, and the works of art influence and relate to their daily experiences.

In an article about the film in the National Post, Jem Cohen says: “This film is a culmination of my life in thinking about why we make art and why it works when it works, but also about how to incorporate life stuff and art stuff into a movie in a very kind of odd but unpretentious way.”

Bobby Summer as a museum guard in Museum Hours, directed by Jem Cohen ’84

In his review of the film, Eric Kohn in Indie Wire says:

“While his new feature Museum Hours is technically his first narrative effort, with a pair of amateur performances and the backbone of a fictional story, its constant introspection and remarkable sense of place provide a fluid connection to the earlier work. With a keen eye for the capacity of fine art to address a complex range of attitudes and experiences, Museum Hours effectively applies Cohen’s existing strengths to a familiar scenario and rejuvenates it by delivering a powerfully contemplative look at the transformative ability of all art. On the one hand a sad, poignant character study, Museum Hours is also a treatise on art history and a love letter to architectural wonder.”

Imogene is a very funny and quirky comedy about Imogene, a washed-up, somewhat delusional playwright who fakes her own suicide to gain her ex-boyfriend’s attention and winds up remanded to the custody of her dysfunctional family who reside on the Jersey Shore. Shari Springer Berman and Robert Pulcini co-direct a wonderful cast including Kristen Wiig, Annette Bening, Darren Kriss, and Matt Dillon. The film played to a packed and highly receptive house in its first public screening in Toronto.

The film allows Wiig as Imogene to extend her range as an actress and she has memorable scenes with both Bening as her impudent mother and Kriss as her mother’s young lodger who offers Imogene an unconventional relationship.

In her review of the film in the Hollywood Reporter, Deborah Young writes: “The film’s great strength is its intuitive casting. The actors interact so well that it’s hard to single out one performance … [Michelle] Morgan’s screenplay is full of intelligent dialogue that got real laughs from the audience on its Toronto bow, and it hits a number of high points …”

And Christopher Schobert in his Indie Wire review writes: “Kristen Wiig … once again proves her value. Whether smuggling a library book under her old phys ed shirt or weeping in the rain on a broken chair, she is adorable, heartfelt and smart.”

Alexis Denisof and Amy Acker as Benedick and Beatrice in Much Ado About Nothing, directed by Joss Whedon ’87

Joss Whedon follows up his megahit The Avengers with a skillful and buoyant adaptation of Willliam Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing. Whedon sets the classic comedy in contemporary times using the original text, and his cast includes several actors who have appeared in his previous projects, including Amy Acker, Alexis Denisof, Nathan Fillion, and Clark Gregg. The film was shot in black and white to evoke a film noir mood over twelve days, on location at Whedon’s own Santa Monica home.

The winning cast handles the Shakespearean language adroitly, and the film is well-paced and a consistent delight. Whedon proves himself thoroughly at home in Shakespeare’s world, directing the material with a light touch.

The first sold-out public screening in Toronto was received enthusiastically by the audience, many of them Whedon’s fans, but this new film is also likely to appeal to those who aren’t acquainted with the director’s previous work.

In a recent interview in The New York Times, Whedon says: “I wanted to give a little bit of that house party feel. The movie is kind of a party to which you’re invited. And at some points, you’re like, we should all go to bed and stop drinking! This party is going very badly! But the feeling we had when we made it was a happy one. We were so into it, so focused and yet giddy. And you want that energy to show up on film.”

In a review at Hit Fix, Drew McWeeny writes: “Here, everyone is able to find a very simple, naturalistic style and rhythm, and it feels like they are all incredibly comfortable with the words. Whedon’s love of language comes through in his own writing, so it should be no surprise that he digs in with such zeal here, or that he is able to clearly communicate what it is that Shakespeare wants us to take away from this romp.”

Garcia ’88 Co-Directs Documentary about NYC Pick-Up Basketball

Bobbito Garcia ’88

Hip-hop DJ Bobbito Garcia ’88 and photographer Kevin Couliau have co-directed Doin’ It in the Park, a new documentary about the popular culture of pick-up basketball, played in parks all over New York City’s five boroughs.

Shot at 180 courts in 75 days, the film covers a cross-section of players both professional and amateur, including Julius “Dr. J” Erving, Kenny Smith, “Pee Wee” Kirkland, “Fly” Williams, God Shammgod, Tim “Headache” Gittens, Corey “Homicide” Williams, Kenny Anderson, Jack Ryan, Richard “Crazy Legs” Colon, Niki Avery, Milani Malik, and the Park Pick-Up Players of NYC.

The filmmakers traveled to most of the film locations by bicycle, carrying camera equipment and a basketball in their backpacks.

On NBC News.com, Matthew R. Warren reports that Garcia was interviewed recently about the film on NBC’s New York Nightly News:

“Doin’ It in the Park,” co-directed by Bobbito Garcia ’88

“As amazing as the history is of categories of documentaries of basketball, no one’s actually done the most common denominator,” said Garcia …. “Whether you’re Lebron James or President Obama, you’ve played pickup basketball.”

Links of interest:

Video interview with Bobbito Garcia at Okay Player.com

Bobbito Garcia interview at Life and Times.com

An Evening with Julia Louis-Dreyfus P’14

On April 12, Julia Louis-Dreyfus P’14, producer and star of “VEEP,” sat down with President Michael Roth ’78 and nearly 300 Wesleyan students, alumni, and parents at The Times Center in New York City for a premiere screening and conversation about her new HBO show. A video of the event is below:

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