Tag Archive for alumni films

The Avengers, Directed and Written by Whedon ’87, Breaks Box-Office Record

Joss Whedon '87

In its opening weekend of May 4-6, the superhero extravaganza The Avengers, directed and written by Joss Whedon ’87 (Firefly, Buffy the Vampire Slayer), opened to critical acclaim and exceeded U.S. box office expectations, debuting at $207.4 million—or $38.2 million more than the previous opening-weekend record holder, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows — Part 2 ($169.2 million) from last summer, according to the Hollywood Reporter. The film earned $475.8 million overseas and $226.4 million in North America by May 7.

This dream movie for comic book lovers brings together characters such as Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.), Captain America (Chris Evans), The Hulk (Mark Ruffalo), and Thor (Chris Hemsworth). At the center of the story is Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson), leader of the peacekeeping agency known as S.H.I.E.L.D. Fury, along with former Russian spy Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson), recruits a super team to combat Thor’s ever-deceptive brother Loki (Tom Hiddleston) after he brainwashes ace archer Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) while stealing a cosmic cube from an underground base.

In his positive  Los Angeles Times review, Kenneth Turan writes:
“As screenwriter, sharer of story credit with Zak Penn [’90] and director, Whedon is the key reason why this $220-million behemoth of a movie is smartly thought out and executed with verve and precision … Whedon’s biggest success, creating TV’s ‘Buffy the Vampire Slayer,’ was nowhere near this scale. But he is a third-generation television writer who was nominated for an Oscar for co-writing ‘Toy Story’ and he’s got an innate gift for bringing stories like this to life with the energy and intelligence that should be popular entertainment’s birthright but rarely is.”

Filmmaker Hernandez ’11: Migrant Workers are ‘Canaries in the Field’

Ruby Hernandez ’11

Ruby Blackerby Hernandez ’11 has produced a 40-minute documentary film, Canaries in the Field, to explore the struggles of migrant workers and their families, as well as reporting on current abuses in the U.S. agricultural system. She wants the American public to be aware of what she calls the “corruptions in the agricultural industry.” Hernandez says that most in the U.S. believe that human rights abuses of farm workers ended decades ago. This is simply not true, she wants us to know.

“It’s not just an immigration issue anymore,” Hernandez told About.com reporter Dan Moffet. “Human rights abuses, wage garnishing, and health issues affect everyone living in the U.S., and also those eating U.S.-grown food, not just the field workers.”

Her documentary focuses on individual stories of migrant workers, including that of Carlitos Candelario, now 6, who was born without limbs. His parents picked tomatoes in fields sprayed with pesticides.

Also collaborating with her was director of photography Jesse Walker, a childhood friend from their Florida hometown, West Palm Beach, where Hernandez first became interested in farmworker advocacy. Her father and brother, musicians both, provided original compositions for the soundtrack.

Hernandez, who majored in history and film studies at Wesleyan, explains that the workers are the “canaries” of the agricultural system: the illnesses they suffer are a warning to all of us about the safety of our food production system. Additionally, she says, the current immigration system is dysfunctional and encourages abuses of agricultural laborers.

“People hear the phrase ‘migrant worker’ and think ‘illegal’ or ‘undocumented’ but immigration, especially in an agricultural context, often concerns legal workers who come to the U.S. on legitimate visas,” she told About.com. “We need to recognize that the plight of the migrant worker is not a partisan issue.”

Goldenring ’77 produces Radio Rebel for Disney Channel

Jane Goldenring '77

Jane Goldenring ’77 produced the upcoming Disney Channel original movie, Radio Rebel.  It airs at 8 p.m. Friday, Feb. 17 (7 p.m. Central). The film stars Debbie Ryan (Jessie) and was directed by Peter Howitt (Sliding Doors).

Radio Rebel, which is based on the book, Shrinking Violet by Danielle Joseph, tells the story of Tara, a shy 17-year-old, who has another identity: DJ Radio Rebel. As her popularity as a radio DJ skyrockets, Tara finds it harder to keep her alter ego a secret and learns to take her own advice and embrace who she is.

“The movie is a lot of fun and the young cast is terrific,” says Goldenring, who is president of Goldenring Productions. “There are three new songs that were composed for the movie that the band in it plays and Debby does a cover of ‘She’s Got The Beat’ that’s great. But I’m particularly proud of the message of the movie: that it’s okay to be different and have a distinctive voice—and how important it is to speak up and stand up for yourself and others.”

Videos by Cohen ’84 Document City Life and Occupy Wall Street

Jem Cohen '84 (Photo by M. Ackerman)

The Jewish Museum (Fifth Avenue and 92nd Street, 212-423-3200, www.thejewishmuseum.org) in New York City will present Jem Cohen: NYC Weights and Measures, a video installation, from Nov. 4 to March 25, 2012 in the museum’s Barbara and E. Robert Goodkind Media Center.

In his 2006 video (6 minutes, 15 seconds long), Jem Cohen ’84 captures the noise and bustle as well as the beauty and tranquility of city life. His work incorporates an intricate soundscape and juxtaposes such moments as a ticker-tape parade, subway riders’ daily commute, and a man pausing for a cigarette.

Cohen says, “Sometimes I just wander around with my camera—I like to see what comes around the corner, and sometimes I just like the corner itself.”

This installation is presented in conjunction with the Jewish Museum’s new exhibition, The Radical Camera: New York’s Photo League, 1936–1951.  Cohen’s choice of subject matter and his approach to filmmaking reveal an intense interest in documenting urban social life. His work is influenced by street photography traditions such as those seen in the work of the Photo League, a group of activist photographers in the 1930s and 1940s New York.

Wasson ’03 Talks About Breakfast at Tiffany’s, Hosts Q&A

Sam Wasson '03 signs copies of his book Sept. 28. (Photos by Bill Tyner '13)

Sam Wasson '03

Sam Wasson '03

Visiting instructor in film studies Sam Wasson ’03 conducted a fascinating Q&A about Blake Edwards’ classic American film Breakfast at Tiffany’s, which was shown on Sept. 28 at the Goldsmith Family Cinema as part of the ongoing Adaptation Series, a collaboration between the Friends of the Wesleyan Library and the Center for Film Studies which examines the translation of literary works to the screen.

Wasson is the author of The New York Times best seller Fifth Avenue, 5 A.M.: Audrey Hepburn, Breakfast at Tiffany’s and The Dawn of the American Woman, the first complete account of the making of the beloved movie based on a Truman Capote novella and starring Audrey Hepburn in her one of her most memorable roles. Wasson’s most recent book, Paul on Mazursky, was recently published by Wesleyan University Press.



Kotlowitz ’77 Produces Documentary About Confronting Urban Violence

Alex Kotlowitz '77

Writer and journalist Alex Kotlowitz ’77, best known for his book There Are No Children Here, has co-produced a powerful new documentary, The Interrupters, directed by Steve James (Hoop Dreams), which was released in select theaters around the country in mid-August. Based on a 2008 New York Times magazine piece by Kotlowitz, the film follows the lives of three members (called “interrupters”) of the Chicago-based anti-violence organization CeaseFire, who risk their lives as the perform violence mediation on the streets of some of Chicago’s most dangerous neighborhoods. The film follows the three interrupters upclose on the street and in offices, homes, meeting rooms and cemeteries.

The Interrupters was an official selection of this year’s Sundance Film Festival and after public screenings, it won immediate acclaim from film critics. As the co-producer Kotlowitz not only raised money, but he helped shape the movie and was present during much of the filming, conducting interviews.

A scene from The Interrupters

In a recent New York Times article by Jessica Reaves about Kotlowitz and the documentary, she noted that the filmmakers “were granted extraordinary entree to their subjects’ lives. ‘They became our lives,’ Mr. Kotlowitz said. ‘We slept with cellphones next to our beds.’ It was quickly established that if interrupters deemed a situation too volatile, the cameras would stand down. ‘We never felt unsafe,’ Mr. Kotlowitz said. ‘It probably helped that Cobe [one of the film’s subjects] introduced us as his film crew.’ “

In her positive a review of the film in The New York Times, Manohla Darghis wrote, “There is a long tradition of what has been described as victim documentaries, nonfiction movies in which filmmakers train their cameras at people enduring crushing hardships. At their worst these documentaries exploit the suffering of others, turning their pain into consumable spectacles. The Interrupters evades that trap partly because it doesn’t try to sell a happy, easily digestible story and partly because it digs in. It took 14 or so months to shoot and clocks in at two absorbing hours … it rises above the usual do-gooder cant by giving the interrupters — and the people they work among and periodically come close to dying for — the time to share their stories about life in the trenches. Mr. James has put a face to a raging epidemic and an unforgivable American tragedy.”

In an insightful interview with Kotlowitz by Marah Eakin on The A.V. Club site, the writer talked about his writing on the poor and underserved. Kotlowitz commented:

“I look at things from the bottom up and from the perspective of outsiders. A part of me just identifies with them. It’s my messed up internal nature that I always feel like an outsider. … At these film festivals, I was an outsider for sure, but I always felt like one as well. I have that feeling at parties, too. I don’t belong there.

“One way to take a measure of society’s social compact is by looking at things from the bottom up. There’s something exhilarating about telling stories that haven’t been shared before and haven’t been told publicly before. The last thing I want to be doing is telling stories other people have already told. That’s not to say that there isn’t important work out there about people in positions of power, but I know my strength. Even when I was at the Wall Street Journal 10 years ago, this is what I wrote about.”

The Interrupters film trailer:

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Interview with Alex Kotlowitz and Steve James on The Interview Show:

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6 Alumni Receive Emmy Nominations

Among the individuals nominated for 2011 Emmy awards:

Sasha Alpert ’82, producer, Project Runway, nominated for Outstanding Reality-Competition Program.

Bill Wrubel ’82, co-executive producer, Modern Family, Outstanding Comedy Series with 17 nominations.

Shari Springer Berman ’85, co-director, Cinema Verite, Outstanding Directing for a Miniseries, Movie or a Dramatic Special (film is also nominated for Outstanding Movie);

Matthew Weiner ’87, creator, writer, producer for Mad Men with 19 nominations, including Outstanding Drama Series and Outstanding Writing

Jim Margolis ’93, co-executive producer, The Daily Show with Jon Stewart Outstanding Variety, Music or Comedy Series

Matt Senreich ’96, executive producer and writer, Robot Chicken: “Star Wars Episode III,” Outstanding Animated Program

The full list of all nominees can be found at The Hollywood Reporter.


Reason.TV: Rommelmann’s [’83] Hollywood is ‘Bad Mother

Nancy Rommelmann '83

Tim Cavanaugh of Reason.TV interviews writer Nancy Rommelmann ’83 about her newest work, The Bad Mother, a short (144-page) piece of fiction set on the corner of Hollywood Boulevard and Wilcox. The plot follows the lives of three homeless girls—one a pregnant teen— and their friends, over the course of six months. Rommelmann, who is an award-winning journalist, makes it clear to Cavanaugh that this is entirely fictional, despite a style that seems reportorial, and a topic—the homeless who show up in the glamorous city of Los Angeles, hoping for a better life—that is not dissimilar to other stories which she covered as a journalist.

“It’s in a real minimalist style,” notes Cavanaugh of The Bad Mother.

Says Rommelman: “I don’t ever—either in fiction or in journalism—want to tell the reader how to feel. I don’t really think that’s my job. I’m going to tell them what happens. And they can take it and they can figure out how they feel about it. I don’t want to hand-lead them anywhere.”

As for Rommelmann’s observations on the city in which this is set: “I think Hollywood exerts this… it sends this message, and it says, ‘If you show up, I’m going to deliver your destiny. But you got to stay. You have to believe in me.’ So they come. And a lot of people, you know, it doesn’t happen, and they leave. But other people, they just keep… they just stay, and they just stay and they just stay, And maybe that next break is going to happen. And Hollywood is not going to disabuse you of that notion. It needs you here.”

On her web site, she describes her journalism as writing “about people and how they do and do not fit themselves into the culture, their dreams, delusions, and sometimes criminal behavior.” Her work has received numerous awards, including Best Arts Feature 2008 for No Exit Plan: The Lies and Follies of Laura Albert, a.k.a. JT LeRoy, from the Association of Alternative Newsweeklies (AAN), as well as Best Entertainment Arts Feature 2008 from the Los Angeles Press Club.

See the video here.

To learn more about Rommelmann’s work, visit her web site, nancyrommelmann.typepad.com.

NYT Praises Fly Away (Grillo ’80) for ‘Commendable Subtlety’

Janet Grillo ’80

The recently released indie film, Fly Away, written and directed by Janet Grillo ’80, explores the question every parent faces—how to learn to let go when the child becomes a teen. However, Grillo ups the emotional ante: Jeanne (Beth Broderick) is a single mother, and her daughter, Mandy (Ashley Rickards) is severely autistic. As Grillo begins the film, it becomes clear that all the coping strategies, all the interventions that Jeanne had developed for Mandy when she was a child, are no longer effective.

Released in mid-April, the film had its world premier in mid-March at the prestigious South-by-Southwest (SXSW) Film Festival. An April 15 review in The New York Times by Jeanette Catsoulis praises the film for “treading warily into territory that few dramas dare explore.”

Catsoulis continues: “Fly Away faces some harsh realities with commendable subtlety. Without overplaying her hand or taking cheap emotional shots, the writer and director, Janet Grillo, examines the assumption that home is always the best environment. As Mandy matures and her aggressive behavior—as well as a growing interest in the opposite sex—becomes more difficult to manage, the film is attentive to the emotional damage sustained by parents who refuse to accept that love may not be enough.”

Related links:


Springer Berman ’85, Pulcini Direct Cinema Verite, a New HBO Film

Shari Springer Berman '85 and Robert Pulcini. (Photo by Patrick Harbron)

Cinema Verite, a new film directed by Shari Springer Berman ’85 and Robert Pulcini (The Nanny Diaries, The Extra Man, American Splendor), premiered on HBO on April 23.

The film stars Diane Lane, Tim Robbins, and James Gandolfini and explores the making of the 1971 PBS 12-episode documentary series, An American Family, which chronicled the lives of “a normal American family” living in Santa Barbara, California. The series is now considered a precursor to current-day reality television shows as it invaded the privacy of the family, revealed the dissolution of a marriage, and showed an openly gay character for the first time on national television.

Indie Wire interviewed the filmmakers recently about their new movie, and Springer Berman said: “The Loud family had everything thrown at them and seemingly fell apart, but the truth is they didn’t. They actually thrived in the end. In spite of it all they’re a wonderfully close family. And there’s so much love there and they all so rallied around Lance [Loud] and were there for him through his illness and ultimately his passing. So to me it was about the triumph of family. I mean it might be a different kind of family than the ‘70s ideal was, it definitely didn’t look like The Brady Bunch, but it was a beautiful, loving family in spite of that. So that was really to me what made me excited about doing the film.”

Tim Robbins, Diane Lane as Bill and Pat Loud in Cinema Verite. (Photo by Doug Hyun/HBO)

In a discussion of the film at The New Yorker.com, film critic Richard Brody writes: “Cinema Verite belongs to a distinctive genre of film … which trades on a jolting disjunction of scale, where tiny or intimate events prove to have a vast and disproportionate historical power. The directors and the screenwriter, David Seltzer, brilliantly blend archival footage with their dramatizations; in the process, they tease out some fascinating notions regarding the very nature of documentary filmmaking and show both why the original program had such an impact back then and which kinds of great changes in society this seminal broadcast may well have sparked. The underlying subject of the film is media-consciousness itself, and Cinema Verite both reveals a moment of transition and belongs to a world in which that very consciousness risks diffusing the influence of actual decision-makers, which, here, the filmmakers restore with an ironic twist.”

Hutton ’09 Directs Documentary about Search for Bone-marrow Donation

Noah Hutton '09

Noah Hutton ’09 has directed and scored a new documentary, More to Live For, which was shown recently at the Dallas International Film Festival. According to Glenn Hunter in the Dallas-based D Magazine, the film focuses on “three cancer victims searching for the bone-marrow transplants that could save their lives. The three are Dallas entertainment-insurance executive James Chippendale; Nigerian athlete Seun Adebiyi; and multiple-Grammy-Award-winning saxophone player Michael Brecker, who eventually died. Brecker’s widow, Susan Brecker, and Chippendale co-produced the film, which is intended to raise awareness about the importance of bone-marrow donation.”

Hutton is currently a creative director at Couple 3 Films, a New York City production house. He is in the process of producing 30 original short films about psychology and neuroscience for Scientific American, as well working on a long-term documentary project about Swiss neuroscientists who are trying to simulate an entire human brain on IBM supercomputers.

Chen ’98 Advocates for Asian Americans with Eating Disorders

Lynn Chen ’98; photo by JJ Casas

Lynn Chen ’98 writes on the blog, Thick Dumpling Skin, which she co-founded with Lisa Lee:

“If you read my food blog, you know that I struggled with binge eating and anorexia for many years. Although it’s no longer a real day-to-day battle for me, I remember the feelings all too well and thought I would share with you what my eating disorder looked like.

“I binged probably once a week for most of my late-twenties. It started off as my “cheat day” – I was in the midst of my trying-every-diet-under-the-sun phase and I liked the idea of a full 16 hours of eating whatever I wanted. It soon became a habit I both dreaded and looked forward to.” (Click here to read the rest of her Feb. 17  posting.)

Lynn Chen ’98 is an advocate for Asian Americans with eating disorders.