Tag Archive for Film Studies
by Cynthia Rockwell •
She Makes Comics, a documentary directed by Marisa Stotter ’13, and produced by Patrick Meaney ’07 and Stotter, won Best Documentary at the 2015 San Diego Comic-Con International Film Festival, and was released on Netflix on Oct. 15. Also available on iTunes and Amazon Prime, the film tells the story of the women—artists, writers, executives, as well as ardent fans—in the comic book industry. The documentary has played at film festivals around the world since its release in December 2014.
Both a thoroughly researched history—featuring luminaries such as Karen Green, the comic librarian at Columbia University, as well as women who wrote and drew comics in the 1950s and ’60s—and a lively story for a general-audience, She Makes Comics is a collaboration between two Wesleyan alumni, one a film major and one an English major—whose years as undergraduates had no overlap.
by Cynthia Rockwell •
Brimstone and Glory is the feature-length documentary produced by Benh Zeitlin ’04, Dan Janvey ’06, Kellen Quinn ’05 and others, on the annual festival in Tultepec, Mexico, where pyrotechnics are the major industry. The weeklong celebration honors San Juan de Dios, patron saint of firework makers, and celebrates the artisans who dedicate themselves to pyrotechnics. Directed by Viktor Jakovleski, and edited by Affonso Gonçalves, the film is scored by Benh Zeitlin and Dan Romer, the two who collaborated on the Beasts of the Southern Wild score.
Dubbed “Best Documentary Feature” at the San Francisco Film Festival, Brimstone and Glory opens in theaters this fall. In preparation, Quinn spoke about this collaboration in this Q&A:
Q: What was the genesis of this project?
A: Viktor, the director, was shown some photographs of the festival by an artist who had recently been there. He was amazed but completely baffled by the images of people “raving in the fire”, as he puts it. Sometime later, during a Berlin techno party, the crowds and sensory experience reminded him of one of the images. He recognized a connection between the collective effervescence of the techno scene that is a big part of his life and the ritualistic elements of what he had seen in those pictures of Tultepec. His initial idea was a short film, but after doing an exploratory first shoot, it became clear that there was something bigger and more ambitious to be made. Ultimately, the film shot over three consecutive festivals.
Q: And what brought you in?
A: In 2014 I was just beginning to move into producing and I was eager to work with friends. Dan Janvey told me about the project and it was immediately intriguing. Also, my mother grew up in Mexico and I spent a lot of time there as a child visiting my grandmother. I felt that working on a documentary in Mexico would offer a really meaningful way of reconnecting with the country.
by Olivia Drake •
“Press this button and say, ‘Action!'” Sarah Lucente ’21 explains to third-grader Isaiah as he intently peers into a videocamera’s viewfinder. “Think about this scene. Think about doing a closeup.”
Isaiah is one of 10 area youth learning about filmmaking though Wesleyan Film Outreach, a program that provides school-aged children with the skills to write, film, direct and edit themselves.
Stephen Collins ’96, associate professor of film studies, teaches the community-engagement class for two hours every Tuesday with Film Outreach volunteers Lucente, Caris Yeoman ’21, Luisa Bryan ’21 and Nick Catrambone ’21.
Collins modeled the class after a pilot he ran in 2016 at MacDonough with his youngest daughter’s fourth grade class.
“Having two kids in the public school system, I see how starved they are for arts education,” Collins says.
by Cynthia Rockwell •
While still undergraduates, Julie Magruder ’17 and Jackson DuMont ’17 began filming The Face of Kinship Care, a documentary highlighting the important role that familial, but non-parental, caregivers provide in the lives of children. The documentary will be will be shown at Wesleyan—as well as more widely—at 8 p.m., Monday, Sept. 18, at the Powell Family Cinema. September, notes Magruder, is Kinship Care Month in a number of states. Through her work on this film, Magruder has become an advocate for highlighting the importance of kinship caregivers in all states.
The project began more than a year ago, when Christine James-Brown, president of the Child Welfare League of America (CWLA), requested a documentary on the topic. Through the W. T. Grant Foundation, DuMont was put in touch with James-Brown. DuMont knew of Magruder’s particular interest in nonfiction storytelling, and once the idea had been solidified, he reached out to collaborate.
by Cynthia Rockwell •
On May 23, Michael Bay ’86 added his hand- and footprints to the cement outside the iconic TCL Chinese Theatre in Hollywood, signifying his status as a film icon. Bay’s 1995 debut film, Bad Boys, was only the first of Bay’s blockbusters, which include Armageddon and The Rock as well as five “Transformers” movies, with an upcoming release of Transformers: The Last Knight slated for June 21.
A film major at Wesleyan whose senior project, My Brother Benjamin, won the Frank Capra prize for best film when he graduated, Bay recalled for Variety that it was at this theater, when he was seeing Raiders of the Lost Ark at age 15, that he decided he wanted to become a director. He had had a part-time job at filing storyboards for Raiders at Lucasfilm, and he had come to the conclusion that it would be terrible. But when he saw the movie, the transformation from concept to screen captured his imagination.
Bay’s excitement about film and talent for it were clear to Jeanine Basinger, Corwin-Fuller Professor of Film Studies and founder and curator of the Wesleyan Cinema Archives, when he arrived on campus in 1982 and showed her some of his photographic work. She told Variety, “I was actually quite taken aback that it was the work of a high school kid because it was dynamic, had great compositions and angles, showed a real control and mastery, but the work had life and energy in it.” Basinger became his advisor.
At Wesleyan he also started collaborating with Brad Fuller ’87—now co-founder of Platinum Dunes with partners Bay and Andrew Form in 2001. With Platinum Dunes, Bay has been involved in producing a series smaller-budget hits, as well as television shows and an upcoming Amazon series, Jack Ryan.
Fuller recalled his college connection with Bay for Variety: “All I can tell you is I sat next to the right guy in film class,” he says. “I knew that guy was going to be successful; he just saw things in a way that other people didn’t.”
Basinger concurs. “Michael has consistently, over a long period of time, proved himself as a filmmaker who can get it done and whose films appeal so much they make huge amounts of money,” she told Variety. Bay added: “It’s a great industry, but it can be very cynical…So people need to remember it’s a really, really, really fun job. And I love, love, love doing it.”
Note: This weekend, Brad Fuller ’87 was on campus for Reunion/Commencement 2017 events and spoke at a WESeminar, “Wesleyan in Hollywood,” with Documentary Producer Sasha Alpert ’82; Creator/Executive Producer of Will & Grace, David Kohan ’86, P’17; and former Co-Chairman of Creative Artists Agency Rick Nicita ’67. Jeanine Basinger, who originated Wesleyan’s Film Studies Program, moderated the panel, which was held in the Goldsmith Family Cinema at the Center for Film Studies.
by Andrew Logan ’18 •
This month, Sebastian Junger ’84 and Liz W. Garcia ’99 will each feature their films at the annual Tribeca Film Festival in New York City. Founded in 2001 by Jane Rosenthal, Robert DeNiro and Craig Hatkoff, the Tribeca Film Festival attracts nearly half a million attendees.
Junger, a journalist, author and filmmaker, is co-director, with Nick Quested, of the film Hell on Earth: The Fall of Syria and the Rise of ISIS,
It follows an extended family’s attempt to flee their homeland in the face of violence and tragedy. Edited down to 99 minutes from an extensive 1,000 hours of footage, it also captures the combat of Kurdish fighters in Sinjar and Shia Militias in Iraq.
Hell on Earth is the latest product of Junger’s long-held interest in war journalism. He directed the award winning documentary Restrepo (2010), which documents US military personnel stationed in Afghanistan’s Korengal Valley. This film would eventually become part of a trilogy that includes Korengal (2014) and The Last Patrol (2016).
Prior to his war journalism, Junger authored two notable works of nonfiction,The Perfect Storm, which was adapted into a film staring George Clooney, and A Death in Belmont. His writing and journalism has earned him a Magazine Award and a Peabody Award and has appeared in magazines such as Vanity Fair, Harpers and The New York Times Magazine.
One Percent More Humid, which will also play at the festival, is director Liz W. Garcia’s second narrative film. It follows two college-age childhood friends, played by Juno Temple and Julia Garner, who return home from school for a New England summer. Although together they engage in typical summer mischief, the effects of their shared past traumas become increasingly pronounced. Yet as they attempt to process their traumas, a rift eventually arises in their old friendship.
Deborah Rudolph, assistant programmer at the festival, describes One Percent More Humid as “a sun-soaked, atmospheric coming-of-age tale of two young women looking to free themselves from distractions, to repair their friendship, and help each other reach the other side of grief.”
Previously, Garcia directed The Lifeguard, her directorial debut, which premiered in 2013 at the Sundance Film Festival. She was the co-creator of the 2010 TNT series Memphis Beat, and has written for television series like Wonderfalls, Cold Case, and Dawson’s Creek. Currently she is writing the final installment of the Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants. Festival literature calls her “one of the most prolific female voices working today in film and television.”
by Andrew Logan ’18 •
How does one convert a shipyard into a cinema? “With a lot of gumption and very little sleep,” reports Nathaniel Draper ’12, the technical director of the Syros International Film Festival (SIFF).
For five days in July, Draper and his colleagues Cassandra Celestin ’13, Aaron Khandros ’13 and Jacob Moe will transform the small Greek island of Syros into a multifaceted cinema space.
Projectors hauled over three hours by boat from Athens will be erected on Syros’s docks, beaches and quarries to screen a variety of films, from art house to Hollywood. Musicians and filmmakers will gather for all-night multimedia performances and, with the help of participants, will construct musical instruments and perform. These are just a few of the unconventional features of the Syros International Film Festival.
Initiated in 2013 by Celestin and Khandros, the festival began as a DIY project financed out of pocket. But it has grown rapidly. Today, their sponsors—the Onassis Foundation, the US Embassy of Athens, Institut Français and Huffington Post Greece, among others—cover much of the expenses.
This year, the festival roster will explore the comedic and psychotic implications of its thematic idiom, “Cracking Up.” As such, it will feature a mix of cinema and expanded cinema that will, according to Draper, break open “the traditional confines of the projection experience.” One of the selections is a 1926 silent film by Japanese director Teinosuke Kinugasais A Page of Madness, which depicts the lives of patients in a insane asylum through an expressionistic style.
These alternative cinematic performances inspired Draper and his team to engage with the shadow puppetry of Indonesian gamelan performance, which Draper was first introduced to through Wesleyan’s world music program. They hope to feature the experimental musician Mike Cooper, performing alongside Gods of Bali, a film that documents Gamelan music and dance. With the assistance of an expert from nearby Cyprus, volunteers and participants will also learn to perform in a Gamelan ensemble built from from items gathered on Syros.
Quite literally a product of its environment, the SIFF has also had to contend with the Greek economic crisis–ironically, the opening night of the 2015 festival coincided with Greece’s vote for austerity.
The SIFF is not Draper’s first experience curating film: As an undergrad, he helped create the “Cinema Sorcery Front,” a club that ran independent film screenings for students. A film major, he fondly remembers Associate Professor of Film Studies Steve Collins ’96, who supported his work and pushed the boundaries of his classroom education.
by Cynthia Rockwell •
A new CNN original series, Believer with Reza Aslan, premieres Sunday, March 5, at 10 p.m. ET. Billed as a “spiritual adventure series,” in which Aslan, acclaimed author and religious scholar, will “immerse himself in the world’s most fascinating faith-based groups to experience life as a true believer.” The show employs the talents of two alumni who majored in film at Wesleyan: executive producer and show runner Liz Bronstein ’89 and director Ben Selkow ’96. Additionally, Professor of Religion Liza McAlister provided both academic scholarship and on-the-ground connections when the crew traveled to Haiti for the segment on Vodou, which will air as third in the series.
Bronstein joined the project soon after a close friend sold Believer to CNN. “He told me, ‘This is the show you were born to run—and he was right.” Growing up with a “spiritually curious mother” who’d often invite different gurus to their home—and with a sister who’d left to join what the family viewed as a cult—Bronstein welcomed this opportunity “to tell the stories that I’d always wanted to tell.”
She began searching for a nonfiction television director who was also a filmmaker. Selkow fit the bill, and, like Bronstein, came with a unique backstory: he had spent most of his youth living with his mother on a religious commune. Both envisioned the show as an immersive experience. The team formed a tight bond, which became crucial in what Selkow calls “dicey situations.”
In one of these (see the trailer), Aslan is seated on the sand next to a cannibalistic tribe member, whose gestures and mood turn threatening. Aslan calls Selkow over from off-camera for assistance.
“The adage in filmmaking is that when you stop rolling, that’s when the action gets good—so we kept rolling,” Selkow recalls. “And It’s amazing to watch the scene unfold, with Reza slowly realizing that he’s in a perhaps dangerous situation and figuring out how to handle it.”
One of the biggest challenges in filming the show was gaining access to religious communities that were often closed off and wary of outsiders. Bronstein found that working with academic scholars who had done extensive field research often opened a lot of doors in local communities.
For the episode exploring Vodou in Haiti, she researched foremost scholars: “Everybody we talked to said, ‘Liza McAlister is the one.’”
In the episode, McAlister provides Aslan with both the historical and cultural perspective on Vodou. “But more than that, she acted as an incredible ambassador and helped us get access to people we wouldn’t have known,” said Bronstein.
“You could see her years of work in the community,” said Selkow. “She was deeply trusted—and Reza would mine her for as much info as he could off-camera.”
More than gaining access, integrating cultural knowledge, and immersing themselves in the experience, the filmmakers had a further challenge:
“How are we going to tell stories about religion in a way that’s visually and emotionally exciting?” asks Bronstein. “In hour-long episodes, how will Reza participate? Scenes of people praying and mediating don’t make for the best TV. So figuring out what Reza would be doing was paramount.”
The team worked with a thesis statement for each episode, often finding the dramatic structure through a conflict. “Most episodes look at a religion that’s under siege or at least highly misunderstood for a variety of reasons,” Selkow says.
Bronstein gives an example: “For Scientology, we asked, ‘Is this what a religious reformation looks like?’ We focus on people who have left the Church of Scientology but still believe that L. Ron Hubbard is their prophet. We compare it to the Protestant reformation. The true believers featured in the series feel like, ‘The church may be corrupt, but we’re taking back the religion and doing it our way.'”
Despite preparation, the team found surprises: “With our Wesleyan film background, Liz and I know that you go into each documentary super prepared—and the outline goes out the window the first day your feet hit the ground. We’d watch Reza starting every time with ‘All right; this is what I can expect to happen,’ and then there would be a great revelation and we’d watch him go through that—and it was extraordinary.”
While the show was filmed a year ago, the two agree that the series is even more relevant today. “It demonstrates compassion for others, domestically and globally,” says Selkow.
Bronstein concurs. “During the filming of each segment we had different people on the set look at the camera and finish this sentence: ‘I believe…’. I thought it might be a cool way to end each episode. It was just an experiment we thought we’d try and it ended up working pretty well. Now CNN is doing a campaign where users can send in their own ‘I believe’ videos. In these crazy times there’s so much need for tolerance and respect for others who don’t share your beliefs.”
by Cynthia Rockwell •
Patti Cake$, the debut film from writer-director Geremy Jasper ’98, has earned the second-highest deal of Sundance so far this year, with a bid of $9.5 million for distribution rights from Fox Searchlight. Producers are Dan Janvey ’06 and Michael Gottwald ’06; Matthew Greenfield ’90 is senior vice-president of production at Fox Searchlight—all Wesleyan film majors.
Jasper’s film tells the story of Patricia Dombrowski, (played by Danielle Macdonald)—also known as Killa P and Patti Cake$—an aspiring rapper in New Jersey. In his review, IndieWire’s Eric Kohn called the film the “best hip-hop movie since Hustle & Flow.”
The film premiered at Sundance’s Eccles Theater on Monday afternoon, receiving two standing ovations, rave reviews—and the Fox Searchlight deal.
Indiewire’s Chris O’Falt ’99, who was also a film major, interviewed Jasper for “How Patti Cake$ Director Geremy Jasper Went from Indie Rocker to Breakout Filmmaker” and Jasper told him, “It’s probably about as autobiographical a story as I’m capable of telling.” O’Falt described Patti Cake$ as “one of the most-anticipated films hitting Sundance this year, ” which” has put Jasper on Hollywood’s director watchlists.”
In tracing Jasper’s biography, from boyhood in a New Jersey suburb, O’Falt notes the similarity to that of the fictional Patricia Dombrowski.
Jasper, who was an American Studies major, had returned to his parents’ home after college. After touring with his band, Fever, Jasper was introduced to Benh Zeitlin ’06—a Wesleyan film major—through a mutual friend. Zeitlin, who was headed to New Orleans to make his first short film, Glory at Sea, invited Jasper to star in the 2008 project. (Zeitlin’s first feature film, four years later, was Beasts of the Southern Wild in 2012, which won the Grand Jury Prize: Dramatic, at that year’s Sundance Film Festival—among numerous other awards.)
Hurricane Sandy in 2012 again brought Jasper back to parents’ house—this time to help with cleanup—and he began writing rap lyrics, along with the initial version of the Patti Cake$ screenplay. Accepted into the Sundance Writing Lab, with Quentin Tarantino as his first advisor, Jasper wrote nearly a dozen more drafts of his screenplay and was invited back to their Directors Lab.
Reflecting on the process, Jasper told O’Falt, “This has been the most fun, intoxicating and rewarding year of my life making this film….I’m so thankful for the winding path that got me here, but there’s something about it that feels so right about it.”
We Together, a short film by Henry Kaplan ’10, has been accepted into the Slamdance Film Festival and will be playing in Park City, Utah, later this month. Slamdance Film Festival runs alongside Sundance Film Festival every year, and is self-described as “a showcase for raw and innovative filmmaking,” with a focus on new and emerging artists, filmmakers, and storytellers.
We Together is a seven-minute long story of a zombie who comes to remember the person who he used to be, before he was a zombie. “The film premiered online this fall and garnered a lot of buzz from the online film community, like Vimeo Staff Pick, Fangoria, Gizmodo, among others,” explained Kaplan. “After getting into Slamdance, we’ve taken the film offline and it will have a ‘re-premiere’ at the festival.”
Kaplan explained the inspiration behind the film. “I liked the idea of going deep into the mind of a zombie, particularly one who is undergoing a transformation of sorts,” said Kaplan. “The film deals with a zombie who, under some odd circumstances, comes to remember little slices of what his life was like as a human. I think it’s a pretty universal experience, actually, such as when you smell or hear something that immediately (almost viscerally) puts you back in a time and place. My idea was to take this sort of visceral experience and adapt it to a fun zombie genre story.”
Additionally, several Los Angeles-based Wesleyan alumni were involved in the film, including Ben Kuller ’11, producer; Elizabeth Litvitskiy ’15, co-producer; Caillin Puente ’15, first assistant director; Matthew Wauhkonen ’08, digital VFX artist; Peter Cramer ’14, grip; and Jeffrey Kasanoff ’15 and Dan Fuchs ’15 as production assistants.
Kaplan, who was a film studies major, resides in Los Angeles and works as a director for music videos, commercials and short films.
by Olivia Drake •
As an undergraduate film studies major in the early 2000s, Michael Slowik admired how Wesleyan’s film faculty emphasized “their unabashed enthusiasm for movies,” the history of film and ways films impacted the audience. “These were things I closely connected with,” Slowik said.
Slowik, who graduated from Wesleyan in 2003 with a BA in film studies, was appointed assistant professor of film at Wesleyan this fall. His research interests include U.S. film history, film sound, film authorship and film’s relationship to music and theater.
“Nearly all of the film professors who were so influential to me are still at Wesleyan, so when I was offered a position in the department, I was happy and honored to accept it,” he said. “I feel privileged to be able to teach in our beautiful film building, and I also love the warm, almost family-like atmosphere of the department. It’s great to be back ‘home’ at Wesleyan.”
After graduating from Wesleyan, Slowik received a MA in humanities from The University of Chicago and a MA and PhD in film studies from the University of Iowa. His dissertation, After the Silents: Hollywood Film Music in the Early Sound Era, 1926-1934, was ultimately published by Columbia University Press in 2014.