AFF 2014 Review – Having Fun Up There

October 29, 2014 by  
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Starring: Jon Ryan, Maria Natapov, Hana Carpenter
Directed by: Frankie Frain (“Sexually Frank”)
Written by: Geoff Tarulli (debut)

In “Having Fun Up There,” 37-year-old musician Mark (Jon Ryan) is struggling to keep his life together. After a series of bad gigs and going nowhere in the music industry, Mark can’t seem to catch a break with his job, his personal relationships or his music career. As he struggles in all of these areas, Mark gives thought to growing up and changing the way he lives his life.

It is no secret that the main reason “Having Fun Up There” works on the levels it does is because of Ryan, who is absolutely hilarious as the cynical Mark. His sarcastic, dry wit mixed with perfect comedic timing makes Ryan look like a natural and even his non-sequiturs are frequently laugh out loud funny. In its brightest moments, the film’s script truly provides Ryan with a great showcase for his strong comedic ability and can be seen as a bright newcomer. Anyone who has ever been in the band will instantly connect to the film’s commentary on being a flamed out or struggling musician.

As two females emerge as important parts of Mark’s life, one story is sweet and fun to watch and the other isn’t at all. When Mark meets Carla (Maria Natapov) in a bar, they instantly decide to become best friends and their relationship becomes more complex as Mark essentially enables Carla in her alcoholism and Carla uses Mark in different ways. It’s a nasty sort of relationship that feels off-putting anytime it is on screen. On the other hand, Mark’s relationship with Kerry (Hana Carpenter), a girl who is a long time fan of Mark’s music is really interesting to watch as the jaded musician Mark is juxtaposed against an eager and happy Kerry. It doesn’t hurt that Carpenter’s performance is totally charming and she plays really well off of Ryan.

Somewhere around the middle of the film, however, there is a distinct shift from comedy to drama and that is where the film begins to fall apart. The aforementioned complexities of the Mark and Carla relationship really don’t work as both characters attempt to simply drink away their issues. While the relationship with Kerry and Mark is so good for a good chunk of the film, the conflict there as well as the resolution isn’t nearly as satisfying.

Few films have captured the essence of being a musician in a smaller/local band as well as “Having Fun Up There” does. It contains so many truly hilarious moments having to do with playing terrible gigs, navigating through band practices with busy outside schedules and the sheer struggle of not “making it.” All of these positives are why it is so frustrating that the film is so front loaded and while succeeding mightily at times on the comedic front, can’t quite hit the right dramatic notes to make a complete film.

AFF 2014 Review – Phantom Halo

October 29, 2014 by  
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Starring: Thomas Brodie-Sangster, Luke Kleintank, Sebastian Roche
Directed by: Antonia Bogdanavich (debut)
Written by: Antonia Bogdanavich (debut) and Anne Heffron (debut)

In “Phantom Halo,” a pair of brothers, Samuel (Thomas Brodie-Sangster) and Beckett (Luke Kleintank) are forced to commit crimes, giving all of their proceeds to their alcoholic and abusive father Warren (Sebastian Roche). Fed up with the way things are going, Beckett decides to branch off on his own to make his own money. But when someone from Warren’s past comes back and threatens the entire family, they must find a way to make it out of the situation alive.

The film makes good usage of its ensemble cast with Game of Thrones actor Brodie-Sangster taking the meatiest role and running with it. Though the idea of an entire family (children included) involved in crime may not be wholly unique, the execution of the idea of doing so by way of pick pocketing bystanders as they watch a talented young actor perform Shakesperean monologues is a really fascinating avenue to take. It provides a connection to see parallels and struggles between father and son while giving Brodie-Sangster the opportunity to pull off a multifaceted role.

“Phantom Halo” gets its title from a comic book and character that one of the main characters reads, idolizes and wants to be more like. It is his form of escapism from the troubles at home that he faces. It is also the part of the story that is the least successful. It feels completely shoehorned in, underdeveloped, and never quite connects in the way that director Antonia Bogdanavich wants it to. It is ultimately not a huge part of the film, yet it is present enough to feel entirely superfluous. Otherwise, the narrative itself is familiar in areas, especially in its counterfeiting storyline, yet is written well enough to not become a major issue. There is even a dash of humor that is present when called for.

Issues aside, “Phantom Halo” does a few things very well, including developing an interesting crime-based storyline for its main characters, some very solid performances, and it mostly pushes the right buttons in terms of narrative direction and conflict between its characters. It may not be entirely memorable, but “Phantom Halo” is a film that succeeds just enough in the face of its shortcomings.

AFF 2014 Review – Looking for Lions

October 28, 2014 by  
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Starring: Chelsea Gilligan, Todd Julian, Norman Lesperance
Directed by: Bradley W. Ragland (“So Long Jimmy”)
Written by: Norman Lesperance (“Future Murder”)

In “Looking for Lions,” a full-length adaptation of a promising short film called “Savage,” the question of “how far will a person go when they are desperate to save the person that they love?” is presented. The main characters in the film find themselves in precarious situations where they must make quick decisions that are fraught with peril. It’s an interesting thought and concept, but unfortunately, one that never really connects in this independent drama.

In the first plotline, Ray (Todd Julian) is a delivery guy who doesn’t take his job seriously. After getting fired, he finds himself delivering mysterious items as a courier. After getting spooked while making a delivery one night with his Mia (Chelsea Gilligan) he vows to stop working for them. But it isn’t as easy as it seems and Ray finds himself more entrenched in the world than he once thought. On the other side of the coin Emmett (Norman Lesperance) is struggling at home with his wife suffering from heart disease. With the bills stacking up and struggling to get on the transplant list, Emmett searches to find a way to save her.

There are a few reasons why “Looking for Lions” fails in its execution, but the most paramount is construction. The decision is made to start the film with Ray and Mia, who are two characters that are very hard to connect with. Beyond that, the incident that sets everything into motion isn’t impactful as it needs to be in order to really buy into the kind of trouble that the couple is in. The story of Emmett is a little bit more successful, especially in the scenes where we see him in support groups and being left with no choice but to ask for money in any way he can. It is further helped by an earnest performance from Lesperance, which is easily the best quality of the film.

It is here, however, where the structure of “Looking for Lions” becomes a major issue. Lesperance and director Bradley W. Ragland make the decision to spend the first half hour with Mia and Ray exclusively (with a few cut ins of Emmett at a support group). By the time we get to Emmett’s much more successful and interesting story, 30 minutes have passed, which is a long time to take to get to the most sympathetic plotline of the film. Once we get to Emmett, Mia and Ray are completely forgotten about for around 20 minutes and when it gets back to them in the final act, Emmett is forgotten about as well. Simply stated, the structure is set up so that long periods of time are spent away from integral characters of the story which not only a complete distraction but makes it difficult to piece the story together. Beyond that, the idea to make Mia and Ray the focal point of the film is a misguided decision as the entire storyline of Emmett gets the message across far more effectively.

“Looking for Lions” plays its major plot points close to the vest and does not quite reveal its secrets and climax until far into the film. Despite the development that happens beforehand, the desperation never really feels earned as once the climactic moment is reached, it is just as soon gone and robbed of what could be a great amount of tension. There are some things to like in “Looking for Lions,” especially with Emmett’s storyline and Lesperance’s portrayal of the character, but the film too often gets in the way of itself and falls victim to a severe lack of execution and structural integrity.

AFF 2014 Review – Mentor

October 28, 2014 by  
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Directed by: Alix Lambert

Between 2005 and 2010, five students from Mentor High School in Mentor, Ohio committed suicide. The one common thread between them was the suspicion that bullying played some role in these cases. So what happened in this town (one that was ranked one of the best places in America to live in the United States) and school that contributed to the repeated loss of young life? Documentary filmmaker Alix Lambert seeks and discovers some truly shocking answers in the fantastic “Mentor.”

The film focuses mainly on the two subjects whose families brought suits against the school district, Eric Mohat and Sladjana Vidovic. Much of the film is told from the perspective of the parents, done so through the usage of powerful and intimate interviews. In Eric’s case, he was relentlessly physically and verbally teased, most frequently by way of gay slurs. His parents were generally unaware of the bullying, and it eventually became too much for him to handle. Through these interviews, we get not only a portrait into who Eric was, but the issues of bullying and the conditions in Mentor both at the school and in the town through the eyes of a family who have lost a child. In one of many heart-breaking segments of the film, Eric’s mother describes that on the day Eric took his life, one of his tormentors said “Why don’t you go home and shoot yourself, it’s not like anyone would notice.” Eric did just that.

The case of Sladjana is a little different. The Vidovic family moved out of Croatia when war broke out on the day of Sladjana’s birth. As they moved to Mentor to find a better life, they found themselves almost immediately out of place. Much like Eric, Sladjana faced daily physical and verbal abuse, with many students making fun of her accent or name, having things thrown at her and even being pushed down the stairs by a football player. After a while, it became too much and Sladjana hung herself from her bedroom window. The difference in this case? Sladjana’s parent’s knew about all of it. In the most frustrating parts of the film, Sladjana’s parents describe, through the use of subtitles, the measures that they tried to take to get the school to do something. There were repeated visits to the administration, trips to outside counseling and treatment facilities, and her mother herself even told the school that she was afraid that her daughter might kill herself. It is here where Lambert pounces as a filmmaker. Through a brilliant use of on-screen graphics, Lambert shows various records including e-mail exchanges, counseling logs and nurses visits showing how clear the signs were that Sladjana was crying out for help. That isn’t even scratching the surface as the true ineptitude of Mentor High School and how they continuously ignored the pleas for help needs to be seen to be believed.

It is hard to call “Mentor” anything other than an extremely important film and a potential conversation starter. Not only is it a portrait of these teenagers and the suffering they endured at the hands of these bullies, but a very well-made exploration into what bullying looks like in this current generation and of course, the appalling procedural follies that took place. Even beyond that, it is a moving and honest look at bullying pushed to its furthest limits and the aftermath families face when they so tragically lose a child. Lambert should be commended for shining a light directly on Mentor High School and taking bold strokes, none bolder than a decision to end the film with a visualization of Sladjana’s detailed suicide note. It is the perfect punctuation to a truly horrible story and affective without being manipulative, a line that Lambert adeptly toes throughout the film. It is nearly impossible to not feel something during “Mentor,”  whether it be immense sadness for the loss of such promising lives, or anger at the injustices that have occurred. It may be a little less effective when it puts the town of Mentor as a whole under the microscope, but “Mentor” is a stirring case study into the bullying problem in the country and essential viewing for parents, teachers and school administrators.

AFF 2014 Interview – Alix Lambert – Mentor

October 28, 2014 by  
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Between the years of 2005 and 2010, five students from Mentor High School in Mentor, Ohio committed suicide. With all of these cases citing bullying as at least a partial factor into these deaths, documentary filmmaker Alix Lambert set out to Mentor, Ohio to investigate what went wrong. The results are shocking, infuriating and baffling as the film shows a complete lack of help from the school itself. It’s an important film to see, especially for those who have children or work in a school. I spoke with Lambert prior to the film’s screening at Austin Film Festival about the evolution of bullying, some visual elements of the film, the reaction from people in the community and much more. If you don’t have the chance to check out this film at Austin Film Festival, the film will be released on the Vimeo VOD platform on November 18th, which you can preorder here.

Bullying is an issue that is pretty much everywhere. What led you to Mentor, Ohio?

It is everywhere and its one of the questions I get, especially from people in Mentor who feel somehow that it’s an unfair focus. When you see the film and you see the cases, especially the case of Sladjana Vidovic, it’s a very extreme case and it’s an ongoing problem with the school of neglecting to address this issue. I think when you make a film and you want to focus on a subject, you try and find the most extreme example of that subject.

There have been 5 incidences of student suicides at Mentor High School. Was Sladjana’s experience the most extreme and therefore the one you wanted to tell the most?

There were a number of considerations. I was considering following the Mohat’s and the Vidovic’s because they were bringing a lawsuit against the school. For me, as a filmmaker, I want to tell stories that people want to tell. The other families were not being public about what had happened to them and I wasn’t interested in doing anything that a family didn’t want when they had lost a child. These were two families that did want to speak and did want to have their stories heard.

The term “bullying” and what constitutes bullying has very much evolved over the years, especially with the prominence of the internet, but it seems that the perception of the word and what people think of when they hear the word “bullying” has not evolved. Do you think that a substantial number of people have a misconception about what bullying in this current generation looks like?

Yes, and I think that’s an excellent question. That’s a question that I had because I’m not an expert on bullying and I was really lucky and honored that (bullying researcher) Dorothy Espelage agreed to work with me on this film because she is an expert. As a filmmaker and a layman, when you talk to people about bullying, they think you are talking about schoolyard taunting or things that are unkind but not uncommon. When you look into these cases, there’s assault, sexual assault, hate crimes…a long list of things that are done a disservice by being referred to as bullying. They are criminal. They are illegal. They are extreme and there are people being physically hurt, emotionally wounded, sexually assaulted, criticized for their sexual preference, their ethnicity…all sorts of things that are not legal and much more extreme than just “somebody threw a pebble at me on the playground.”

What about the current football hazing story that is going on in New Jersey? It seems like people might not associate that with bullying but it is absolutely bullying.

Exactly. I think that you are seeing this everywhere. I don’t know if it is more prevalent or if you are seeing it more because of the technology we have, but certainly the addition of cyber bullying is something that doesn’t allow kids to get away from it. When I was growing up, you might have had issues but if you left school, you were out of school for however many hours till you had to go back. Sladjana was getting threats on her cell phone. It went beyond the walls of the school and there’s no ability to get away from it. I think that’s really horrific and when you’re an impressionable teenager, you have this feeling like you’re never going to be able to get past it.

I’m sure going into the film you knew about the situation, but once you started filming, were you shocked at all to see how poorly the situation was dealt with, especially in the case of Sladjana?

I was very shocked because I do always attempt to go into any project with an open mind and there is the possibility that there has been this problem clearly at this school but maybe the school is attempting to address it. You don’t know. I don’t want to go with a pre-written idea of what the story is. But every single step we took forward to try and talk to people and every layer that we uncovered was worse than the previous one and her case was really shocking.

Was the plan always to focus on her case or did the story emerge as the one with the most red flags and therefore the one to really focus on?

The film is about both families and some aspect of what I wanted to do was have it be a portrait of grief and what happens to a family and what happens in the wake of a teen suicide. In that sense, the Mohat story is of equal weight and importance and should be seen and felt and empathized with. Because Sladjana’s case had such a long history of paperwork…the Mohat’s were not aware that their son was being bullied…the Vidovic’s were. So there was a long trail that you could follow of their complaints, of them going to the school, of email exchanges, of all sorts of nurses, outside counselors that could verify what happened to her. When the Mohat’s case was dismissed, in terms of filmmaking structure, it was a place where the story went into Sladjana’s story. But anyone who loses a child…this is a horrible tragedy so there is certainly not a feeling that one story was of more importance than the other, but one story was a way to illustrate what had happened at that school more clearly and with more evidence.

One of the things that makes the film so effective is that you do have this evidence. You have a paper trail that shows the proof of severity of the situation that isn’t hearsay; it’s fact. How important was it to feature these documents on screen?

That was really important to me because otherwise you’re making a film that is a he said, she said movie and I think that’s where you can get into trouble if you’re saying “I’m talking to this family and personally and intuitively I believe them but there is nothing to back it up.” Whereas in Sladjana’s case, there was a lot to back it up. It’s part of the reason that this was a case that could be focused on in the film. It’s a challenge of “how do you show that this is a case of neglect and not just a tragedy that happens in a number of places?”

As you see in the film, nobody from the high school and nobody else would speak to you about the film or for the film. Did they give you a reason? Why do you think that is that nobody would speak to you?

Well, I intentionally put those cards up every single time I was denied because otherwise you get the criticism of “why didn’t you get the school to talk?” I would have loved it if some representative of the school had spoken. I’m sure that their argument for not speaking was that there was an open lawsuit. But if I was in their shoes, I think you can at the very least make a statement that says, “we can’t talk about specifics about this case, but our hearts go out to these families.” There was none of that. I have a voicemail from the lawyer for the Mentor School District that was very angry and asking me how I got on the premises of the school which is…I walked in the front door. That also surprised me. I do understand that there are specifics that can’t be spoken about when there is a case that’s open but I also know that you can make more generalized statements of caring for people in your community and in your school.

One thing that you notice is that when you have a tragic incident like that that people or institutions who are accused of having some sort of involvement or pressure put on them…they usually look for someone or something to blame rather than focusing on a solution or making things better. Do you find that line of thinking misguided?

Yeah, of course. Both families talk about being shunned from the community after the death of their children, which is another thing I find quite shocking. You may not agree with the lawsuit, but whether you agree or disagree, these are families that lost a child. You should, at the very least, have some kind of compassion for them. They didn’t experience that and when I put up a trailer for the documentary, which if you look at the trailer has very little information about what was going to be in the documentary…I received threats and tweets and emails from people at the school. Not just students but teachers and parents. That immediate “we’re going to turn around and hate these people and not even looking at why we’re doing that” is a really negative human response.

Are you of the opinion that part of the reason is to protect this image that Mentor has of being one of the best places to live?

Yeah, I share that opinion. I did not grow up in a place like Mentor. I went to an art high school so we were a small group of close friends who were studying art. To be in a community that is so much a culture of conformity and such little diversity and values the football team and any kind of difference seems to be cause for poor treatment. Just being from Croatia seemed to be Sladjana’s entire reason for being bullied. That felt very palpable to me while I was there.

Does that seem to be the common thread with the kids who are bullied? Something is different than everyone else?

Yeah, you either had to fit a very narrow…you’re an athlete, you’re white, you’re a certain type of kid or you’re a problem. That was my general observation. Anybody who didn’t fit this incredibly narrow description was at risk of being bullied.

In doing research about the stories, I came across an ABC News story in 2009 where Mentor High School spoke to the press and claimed that they used the Olweus Anti-Bullying Campaign, yet in Meghan Barr’s AP report, and in the film, nobody in the school will speak to you or provide any information about the anti-bullying campaign. And actually, in the film, in one of the internal e-mails you see on screen, someone says that they need to formally activate the Olweus program. Do you think that statement that they made was true, first of all, and why do you think that there was an about face from the district when it came to speaking directly to Meghan versus this previous report?

My sense was that they paid lip service to taking on this program but they never activated it. They never had a kick off day, they never did any of the things they said they were going to do. When you see those emails, that’s what you see. Those e-mails happened after these suicides. In my opinion, they were panicking and saying “We’ve gotta get this bullying program underway because we have a problem here.” But it’s not “we have a problem and we care about these kids or these families.” It’s “we have a problem because we have not done what we said we would do.”

One other thing that I’ve noticed in reading stories or videos is that you’ll see a lot of comments that have statements like “I went to Mentor High School and I wasn’t bullied” or “things at Mentor are fixed and better now.” While these things may be true, that doesn’t change the fact that A. these things happened and B. it took the suicides of 5 teenagers in order for something to be done.

My impression is that things are not better. I continue to get emails from students who are bullied; I continue to get angry responses. It’s a big school. Just because there are students who are not bullied does not mean there is not a problem in the school. I think some of these comments from students who may have had a good experience at Mentor…it’s like “Great, you had a good experience at Mentor but you’re not in a position to tell me whether there’s a problem there because there are a lot of other students who are contradicting what you are saying.” When I see these comments that are like “well this is not going on anymore” and it’s from a student who had a good experience there I feel like…based on what? Great, I’m happy that you had a good experience but what are you basing your knowledge on that 4,000 other students also had a good experience last year?

Do you find that there’s a sweep it under the rug mentality going on with this situation?

That’s my sense. When I receive e-mails from students who are being bullied, they want to remain anonymous. I think when people want to remain anonymous it’s because they are afraid. If they’re afraid to be in school and say “this is happening to me,” then that’s a problem that hasn’t been fully addressed.

For me, the most powerful part of the film was when we see the visualization of Sladjana’s suicide note at the end of the film. I think it’s the perfect punctuation of a really affecting story. Can you talk about your decision to end the film that way and your intention with the visualization?

The suicide note is the only opportunity to hear Sladjana to speak for herself. She left an incredibly detailed and long suicide note. Some part of it is written in English and some part is written in Croatian. I felt like…here’s the opportunity that is a rare opportunity for this young woman to speak for herself. A lot of the note was about what happened to her in school. So I thought, “Here’s a first hand account of this. How do you put it on screen without it being an enormous amount of text?” I worked with Hannah Neufeld who is my editor that I’ve worked with many, many years and we came up with what we felt would be a graphic treatment of the note that would represent who Sladjana is. She loved pink and she had a personality that we felt that we had gotten to know through talking to her family and spending time there. Then my friend Buddy and his music partner Will Golden…that song is the Mentor school song but I had him cover the song in a way that makes it ironic and poignant.

Of the things to come from the film and the discussions that should be had, do you feel like there is an equal focus on bullying and teenage suicide? Suicide is the number 3 cause of death between teenagers and young adults and a very serious issue.

Absolutely. There has been a lot of discussion of bullying and lots about teen suicide and I think that it is an incredibly important issue. I think that feeling of you’re never going to get past it when in fact if you can just get past graduation, you’re into the world…I would love to contribute somehow to helping teenagers feel like they can make it into adulthood. That was definitely something I wanted to address.

The film deals with very intense emotions and terrible and sad stories about injustices and kids being treated horribly. As a documentary filmmaker, when you’re hearing these stories, I assume you know you are getting great, compelling footage for your film but how do you deal with the emotional weight or even the frustration that comes from what you’re hearing?

It’s very difficult. All of my documentaries have upsetting subject matter and I think you have to be careful. I talk to other journalists and documentarians about this all the time. It’s a balancing act of taking care of yourself so that you can tell the story and not absorbing so much that you yourself become depressed. It’s not an easy thing to spend all of your time working on.

Around the time you started filming the movie, Lee Hirsch’s “Bully” came out, which was a really interesting look at bullying actually happening rather than seeing the effects of it after the fact. Do you feel like that film changed the conversation about bullying at all and do you hope that your film reinforces that point?

Definitely. I support that film enormously. I think that for me, my strength is to focus more on the emotional aftermath of what happens. The two films compliment each other and hopefully can be in conversation together as a way of looking at the problem because I think they address different parts of the issue.

When “Bully” came out, people were talking about showing the movie in schools and showing it to students. Do you feel like your film is something that should be shown to schools or at the very least to school administration so they know exactly what not to do?

Yeah. I think it should not be shown to anyone under 18. I’ve talked to organizations about copycat suicides and younger kids seeing things that they copy. I do think that for parents, administrators and teachers, it’s a film I’d like to use in an educational way.

Speaking of “Bully,” when that movie came out, one of my colleagues at our site tried to track down the person who bullied him when he was a kid and found out that he was in prison. Of course, he’s of a different generation and we’ve talked about how the idea of a bully has evolved over time. Do you feel like the face of the common bully has changed from what it used to be? Are these kids that do it now headed down a similar path or are they well adjusted? What have you found in looking into this?

I haven’t followed that many of the bullies in terms of what they went on to do. I have heard from the families that some of the specific bullies from the school have had problems with the law and drugs and criminal activity. I don’t think that it’s a great path to be on. But also, there are people who are bullies that go on to successful careers in whatever so I don’t know. I don’t know the statistics on that but I certainly don’t think morally or ethically it bodes well for your future as a human being.

Do you think that the introduction of cyber bullying has allowed people who wouldn’t normally engage in those behaviors face-to-face to have this barrier in between them to, in their minds, make it okay?

I responded to all threats that I got and I said, “We’re still filming, would you like to speak on camera” and nobody said “yes.” So I absolutely feel like there’s a safety for these kids to be aggressive and angry behind a computer in a way that they then chose not to speak to me at all when I was in person.

Have you returned to Mentor at all or done any follow-ups?

The film screened at the Chagrin Film Festival, which is only about 20 minutes from Mentor two weeks ago. I really wanted to be there because both families were there, the lawyer was there. I was in a car accident right before that and I was not able to travel, so I really regret that that’s the festival I missed. I would have liked to have stood from the families. But they responded very well to it and I’ve spoken to them since then and that meant a lot to me…how they felt about the film. But I haven’t been back to Mentor since we finished filming.

What do you feel is the best course of action for helping the bullying problem? Do you think that awareness enough or does there need to be school intervention? Education to students? Parents?

Again, I would defer that question to Dorothy. I wouldn’t want to recommend the wrong solution. I certainly think education, awareness and empathy training…I think that people need to be concerned about people in their community and they need to consider people in their community as people in their community. There was a lot of “these people are not part of our community” and I think that’s a systemic problem that needs to change. People need to consider who is in their community and who they are.

We hear the fate of the federal cases in the film and it’s a little frustrating to see especially given the seemingly large amount of evidence that the Vidovic’s had, but are there still cases pending on the state level?

There are. The school settled with the Mohat’s. I don’t know the details of that settlement. The Vidovic’s are still in appeal. Ken, who is the lawyer for both families, has been updating me it’s kind of changing every day, but yes. The Mohat’s did come to a settlement and we hope the same thing will happen for the Vidovic’s.

AFF Film Review: Scrapper

October 25, 2013 by  
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Starring: Michael Beach, Aidan Gillen, Anna Giles
Directed by: Brady Hall (“Hello, My Name is Dick Licker”)
Written by: Ed Dougherty (“Blackout”) and Brady Hall (“Hello, My Name is Dick Licker”)

An offensive, obnoxious, unfunny and badly-acted comedy/drama by director and co-writer Brady Hall (“Hello, My Name is Dick Licker”), “Scrapper” is one of those movies that will give filmmakers everywhere reason to believe their shoddy project has a chance to be accepted into film festivals. If something as staggeringly bad as “Scrapper” can get pulled out of the junk heap, anything is possible.

“Scrapper” stars Michael Beach as Hollis Wallace (terrible movie character name!), an independent scrap metal collector who makes a living by driving around neighborhoods looking for unwanted items he call sell to the scrap yard. For whatever far-fetched reason, Hollis decides to hire Swan (Anna Giles), a down-on-her-luck teenager who will do just about anything for a buck.

Despite Beach’s best attempt to keep the film grounded, the “Scrapper” script is an ugly one to say the least. If Hall’s intention was to create some sort of emotional bond between Hollis and Swan, he fails. Beach and co-writer Ed Dougherty try to write Hollis as this father-figure type character that gives advice to his new employee, but the dialogue they share (not to mention the word vomit spewed by the rest of the cast) is far from inspiring. We won’t even attempt to dissect what Beach was thinking when he has Hollis and Swan have awkward sex on the couch with each other. Without a scrap of emotion, authenticity, or real-world consequences behind it, “Scrapper” is a lost cause from every angle.

“Scrapper” plays at the 2013 Austin Film Festival Saturday, Oct. 26 at 10:30 p.m. (Rollins Theater) and Tuesday, Oct. 29 at 10:00 p.m. (Alamo Drafthouse Village).

For more Austin Film Festival Coverage, click here

AFF Film Review – Sombras de Azul

October 23, 2013 by  
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Starring: Seedne Bujaidar, Yasamini Guerrero, Charlotta Mohlin
Directed by: Kelly Daniela Norris (debut)
Written by: Kelly Daniela Norris (debut)

Grief is a process that is both unique and universal. While it is something that we all experience, it is entirely complex and can take many different forms for different people. In “Sombras de Azul,” Maribel (Seedne Bujaidar) must come to terms with her brother’s suicide. In order to cope, she takes a trip to the one place he always wanted to visit: Cuba. After a rather troublesome introduction, she befriends Eusebo (Yasamani Guerrero) who serves as a guide (and, in a sense, an emotional guide) through the streets of Havana.

As a first time actress, Bujaidar is highly impressive. Her expressive eyes truly show the pain of a girl who is not only devastated by loss, but also confused in the process. The delivery of her dialogue is natural and her performance is elevated even further in her scenes with Guerrero with whom she has a very genuine chemistry.

Without a doubt, the strongest element of the film is writer/director Kelly Daniela Norris’ screenplay. In a well thought-out move, Norris makes use of voiceovers to convey the thoughts and emotions of Maribel. These come in the form of conversations with her deceased brother, which are often heartbreaking but always profound. They do a fantastic job of informing the audience about the nature of their relationship. Through Maribel’s words, we hear her imagine what her brother’s last moments alive were like. We hear her describe how she can feel him comforting her as she expresses remorse for not calling him. Maribel is understandably broken, but through her narration, the audience gets a brilliantly insightful look as she makes her way through the mourning process. While certainly not bad, Norris is a little less successful as a director. The shots of the streets, people and setting of Havana, while interesting at first, are far too many. There are also a few shots that suffer from either too much or too little camera movement and the closing moments of the film might lack a little resolution for some.

Having lost a brother of her own, Norris has crafted a deeply personal film, and it shows. Its construction has the type of insight that only someone who has suffered the pain and anguish of losing a loved one could provide. In it’s finest moments, “Sombras de Azul” is a beautiful and poetic meditation on life, death, and loss. With her first feature, Norris will be someone to watch in the future, especially for her screenwriting.

“Sombras de Azul” is playing at the Austin Film Festival on Thursday, Oct. 24 at 7:10 pm (Rollins Theater) and Monday, Oct. 28 at 7:00 pm (Texas Spirit Theater). 

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