News & Updates
February 12, 2017
Amma Asante Responds to Backlash Against Interracial World War II Love Story ‘Where Hands Touch’ — Exclusive
Late last week, Variety debuted a first look picture (see below) from “A United Kingdom” and “Belle” filmmaker Amma Asante’s latest feature, a World War II-set interracial romance titled “Where Hands Touch.” The film follows the romance between pair of German teenagers — Amandla Stenberg as the biracial Leyna and George MacKay as Lutz, the son of a prominent SS officer and a member of the Hitler Youth — and it unfolds against the backdrop of the war and the Holocaust.
The first look image was met with backlash across social media platforms, and various commenters loudly voiced their displeasure that, in crafting a story around a persecuted person and a Hitler Youth, Asante was “romanticizing” Nazis and otherwise diminishing the experience of those that suffered during World War II and the Holocaust.
— Lakshmi Gandhi (@LakshmiGandhi) February 10, 2017
Coming from the romance novel world, where Nazi romantic heroes is suddenly A Huge Fucking Problem, Where Hands Touch greatly concerns me.
— Kayleigh Anne (@Ceilidhann) February 12, 2017
In debuting this first look at the feature, Asante also addressed the difficult nature of the film’s subject matter. She told Variety: “It has been a passion of mine to tell this story for many years — to shine a light on the existence of German children of color who were forced to grow up under Hitler’s rule, labelled as ‘Rhineland bastards.’ Against this historical backdrop, Leyna and Lutz enter a rite of passage negotiating the path to true identity in a society that has turned in on itself and is eating its own tail. Completing this film brings together everything I am as filmmaker.”
Asante was soon compelled to respond on her own Instagram account, where the filmmaker emphasized her desire to shine a light on the atrocities committed against children during the war — not just young biracial and black Germans, but also the German youth who were forced to join Nazi groups — and how she hopes that story will be reflected in her newest film.
In an updated statement to IndieWire, Asante again emphasized her intentions and hopes for the film, and she also provided another exclusive image from the film (see above):
“This week, a First Look image of the film I have made starring Amandla Stenberg was released, and it revealed all sorts of concerns, questions and worries with fears on what this film will be about. My passion has been to shine a light on the existence of the children of colour who were born and raised under Hitler. These children were also persecuted and my wish has been to explore how Black and Bi-racial identity was perceived and experienced under Nazi facist rule. The young girl’s experience in ‘Where Hands Touch,’ sits alongside the Jewish experience and the experience of others who were persecuted. It looks at how Germany became Nazi Germany and ‘slept walked’ itself into a disgusting and murderous state that resulted in it killing its own people and those of other countries.
Leyna’s story (Amandla Stenberg) is told in this sad and terrifying context. My reasons for making this film sit around my concerns of the current climate but also a continued and growing intolerance of racial and religious difference, that we all have sensed for many years and which is becoming even worse now. As a filmmaker, my wish is to center on bringing attention to this through my work.
Amandla and I teamed together to shine a light on the hatred that Nazi Germany visited on Europe and to make a film that might contribute to the dialogue of how we fight this horrific racial and religious ignorance today, along with the intolerances visited on the many other marginalized groups and intersections.
Tantrum Films/Pinewood Pictures
With only a few lines and one image ever offered to a filmmaker to comment on when a First Look image is about to be released, and with the lead character in this film embarking on such a large rites of passage story, it is difficult to summarize all the things one might want to about a film in a brief article. Amandla’s role as a sixteen year old in this film brings attention to an, as yet, untold story in the arena of drama cinema, to the existence of the other ‘others’ who suffered during the holocaust. This does not mean that the Jewish experience is not also key to our story. It is.
When, as a 17 year old member of the Hitler Youth (compulsory since 1936), George MacKay’s character discovers exactly what his country is and what it stands for through learning the truth of what is happening to Jews and then to Leyna as she is thrown into a camp system, he rejects the doctrine and challenges his father’s belief system.
I hope that this at least clarifies concerns as you encounter the image of this German girl of color being raised in fascist Germany. I have all the respect in the world for those who have enjoyed my films thus far and i would never make a movie that glorified, glamorized or romanticized hatred and murder in any way. On the contrary, I want to explore the voices of the marginalized. By exploring the experiences of yesterday we can hopefully be better prepared when ugliness heads our way today. Sending you all, love and light.”
Two of Asante’s previous films, “Belle” and “A United Kingdom,” are historically-set dramas that focus on interracial relationships that unfold despite intense racism and persecution.
“Where Hands Touch” was shot last year in Belgium and the Isle of Man and is currently in post-production. Asante’s latest film, “A United Kingdom,” opened last week.
Source: IndieWire film
February 12, 2017
Three years after making his auspicious debut with “Dear White People” — and ahead of the upcoming TV adaptation coming to Netflix — writer/director Justin Simien has answered the question he’s been getting asked since before his film even hit theaters: Why did he name it that? “Had I made a terrible mis-calculation?” he recalls wondering after receiving harsh questions at early screenings of his film and being subjected to overt racism online. “Had I doomed my film and career to obscurity because I dared to put the words ‘white’ and ‘people’ next to one another in my title?”
Thankfully not — after winning a Special Jury Award for Breakthrough Talent at Sundance, Simien went on to receive strong reviews for “Dear White People,” and is writing the first 10 episodes of the Netflix version. But a boycott of the show has been called for on some corners of the internet (you can probably guess which), and so now he feels compelled to respond.
In his Medium post, Simien reveals that the movie’s original title was “2%,” a reference to the percentage of black students at the fictional Ivy League university where his film is set. “Sending ‘Dear White America-isms’ back and forth had become a snarky but satisfying past time initiated by my friend,” he writes. “During such an exchange it dawned on me that ‘Dear White America’ would make a great name for the radio show hosted by firebrand Samantha White, a divisive fictional character in a screenplay I’d been writing called ‘2%.’”
“But the title had to go,” he continues. “‘Number titles’ never worked, I’d been told, assisting in the publicity department at Focus Features. ‘2%’ was too nondescript. This film needed something…louder.
As a sort of dry run, Simien made a Dear White People Twitter account. It did well, and the popularity of websites like Stuff White People Like and Shit White Girls say further emboldened the aspiring filmmaker. “It occurred to me that by naming the film itself Dear White People I could tap into the burgeoning meme culture as well as make a meta-commentary about the controversies within the film,” he recalls.
“As a title it felt right. It was a clutter buster, the kind of thing that made you sit up and go ‘What is THIS going to be?’” continues Simien. “Perhaps naively I assumed that most people would move quickly past their knee jerk reaction, whatever that may be, take a look at my little art film about the lives of black students, and either be surprised or validated by seeing themselves in characters mostly absent from popular culture.”
Simien offers more thoughts and insights in hist post, which can be read in full here.
Source: IndieWire film
February 12, 2017
If you thought Meryl Streep was done with Donald Trump after the Golden Globes, think again. At a fundraiser for the Human Rights Campaign held last night, the three-time Oscar winner — who Trump called “overrated” in response to her blistering takedown of him at last month’s awards ceremony — doubled down on her criticism of the president.
“If you think people got mad when they thought the government was coming after their guns, wait until they come and try to take away our happiness,” Streep said, apparently to a two-minute standing ovation.
Streep was there to accept the gay rights organization’s Ally for Equality Award, and used the occasion to defend the LGBTQ community. “We’re not going to go back to the bad old days of ignorance and oppression and hiding who we are,” she continued. “We owe it to the people who have died for our rights, and who have died before they even got their own.”
For all her criticism of Trump, Streep said he may have given us a small gift, however unintentionally. “If we live through this precarious moment,” she began, “if [Trump’s] catastrophic instinct to retaliate doesn’t lead us to nuclear winter, we will have much to thank our current leader for. He will have woken us up to how fragile freedom is.”
Streep received her latest Academy Award nomination — her 20th, which is more than any other actor has ever received — for her role as the title character in “Florence Foster Jenkins.” She isn’t expected to win, but one can imagine what her speech might be like if she did.
“We have the right to live our lives, with God or without, as we choose,” added Streep. “There is a prohibition against the establishment of a state religion in our constitution, and we have the right to choose with whom we live, whom we love, and who and what gets to interfere with our bodies. As Americans, men, women, people, gay, straight, LGBTG. All of us have the human right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”
Source: IndieWire film
February 2, 2017
Alternative comedy darlings John Early and Kate Berlant share a chemistry both onstage and off that would make even the most confident of best friends jealous. Though their styles differ, the frequent collaborators share an easy confidence with physical comedy, delightfully unexpected pop culture references, and a healthy dose of the bizarre.
All of these talents are put to good use in “555,” their new anthology series with Vimeo Originals. Under the direction of Andrew DeYoung, Early and Berlant exhibit yet another skill not every comedian can claim: A flair for highly visual and cinematic storytelling.
Early earned praise for his portrayal of self-obsessed gay hipster Elliott in TBS’s “Search Party,” but by then he was already stealing scenes in “Wet Hot American Summer: First Day of Camp” and “Neighbors 2.” His film career is picking up: He has small parts in Miguel Arteta’s “Beatriz at Dinner” and “Fun Mom Dinner,” which both played the Sundance Film Festival this year. That Berlant has fewer high profile IMDB credits says more about the lack of roles for women than it does about her talent. A beloved stand-up at the forefront of experimental comedy, she is as quick with a line as Kathy Griffin, but as bizarre as Maria Bamford.
This unique outlook was on full display during a recent live show, where the duo did stand-up in between airing episodes of the series. “You know it’s a dark time when ‘La La Land’ can’t help,” she quipped, referring to the political climate. She finished it off with: “I can’t wait for ‘Moonlight’ to be steamrolled by Emma Stone’s clavicle.”
There are five episodes of “555,” each featuring Early and Berlant as different showbiz caricatures: aspiring pop stars, a clueless stage mom and her shy son, over-earnest acting students, extras playing aliens, and ambitious agents. As in their individual episodes of Netflix’s “The Characters,” (two of the show’s best, along with Natasha Rothwell’s), the series acts as a showcase for the duo’s impressive arsenal of lovable eccentrics. Unlike “The Characters,” Vimeo gave Early and Berlant complete creative control of “555;” and the result is a stylish debut that plays more like a collection of short surrealist films than a comedic web series.
“Our comedy is mostly behavioral, but we also love film,” Early told IndieWire, surrounded by empty edamame shells in a brightly lit Vimeo conference room. “We love performances that are framed in something that’s been considered and lush. Also, tone is very important for us. We don’t just want our behavior to exist in a vacuum. If you’re gonna make a film, make a goddamn film! Make it fun to look at, and we want you to feel something when you’re watching it.”
Though their stand-up features plenty of one-liners, the humor in “555” is closer to something one might find on British television; uncomfortable, specific, and unafraid of silence. “[American TV] is always like: Joke, joke, joke,” Berlant added. “Are people really making jokes in their every day life that much? We think the funniest moments are just behavioral tics; jokes about presentation of self.”
Behavioral tics are certainly their bread and butter. Early does more with a slowly closed eyelid than most can with a rehearsed punchline.
But what sets “555” apart is that it is also sad, dark, and beautiful. At times, the sets look like something out of Anna Biller’s “The Love Witch,” with a healthy dose of John Waters and Wes Anderson thrown in for good measure. “I would argue too that TV now is getting very auteur-y,” said Early. Berlant added: “There is an interest in things looking good. But just looking good isn’t enough anymore, or people aren’t easily seduced just by visuals.”
The visuals in “555,” while impressive, are just gravy on top of the genuinely hilarious satire. But there is another aspect that sets it apart from other comedies: The subtle dread simmering just below the funny. The characters are yearning for validation, afraid of human connection, and emotionally stunted by their blind ambition. In an intimate moment shared in an all-mauve bedroom, Early’s character questions his chosen path: “If you give all of yourself; your head, your heart, your mind, your soul, your spirit, you are indirectly addressing climate change.”
In their stand-up as well, Early and Berlant are not afraid to go dark, or as Early says, “brown.” The Joe’s Pub show ended on a raucous and elaborate bit where they imagined the most satisfying ways they could kill the current president and his cronies. Berlant mused that Education Secretary nominee Betsy DeVos needed a “beautifully seasoned cast iron” to the back of the head, and Early went easy on Melania, suggesting “a live burial in linen.”
Unlike some “auteurs,” they are not afraid to admit that the series was “about 90 percent improvised.” After so many years onstage together, they know where the magic happens. “It’s a combination of laziness and just that we are at our best when we’re improvising with each other,” said Early. “It’s like performance; it’s stressful to get onstage and you’re like, ‘OH GOD,’ and then somehow you hopefully arise to the occasion,” Berlant said.
She waited a beat before adding, “That’s my parenting style, too.” Then she made fun of herself for always needing to make a joke. Ever her biggest fan, Early laughed in encouragement. “We could throw in some jokes to the interviews,” he said. “We’ve been, like, deeply earnest.”
“555” debuted on Vimeo All five episodes of “555” are available on Vimeo for $3.99.
Source: IndieWire Digital TV
February 2, 2017
A 90’s comedy classic meets the remake of a 70’s sci-fi cult hit in Funny Or Die’s latest exclusive, “City Slickers in Westworld.” In a premise so brilliant it’s a wonder no one thought of it earlier, Billy Crystal and Daniel Stern reprise their “City Slickers” roles to appear as hosts in “Westworld,” HBO’s hit sci-fi thriller series.
Directed by Ron Underwood, 1991’s “City Slickers” is a Western comedy about Mitch Robbins and Phil Berquist, two New York City yuppies who head out West to herd cattle. The movie was a major box-office success, and even earned Jack Palance an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor in 1992.
In Funny Or Die’s re-imagining, Mitch and Phil are actually hosts at “Westworld,” a Western themed park stocked with humanoid robots, and their bickering has escalated to such heights that Mitch keeps shooting Phil. “Westworld” actors Luke Hemsworth and Ptolemy Slocum reprise their roles as Delos technicians in charge of programming the malfunctioning hosts.
Crystal’s bantering with Hemsworth, who is clearly a fan, is particularly fun to watch. When Crystal calls Hemsworth the “other Hemsworth brother,” he simply programs Crystal to slap himself in the face. Hemsworth doesn’t have much patience for Crystal’s jokes about how the lab looks like “the waiting room at the CIA, or the waiting room at CAA,” ordering him to “limit [his] witty affect.” Hijinks ensue, and Crystal and Stern not only earn laughs, but kudos for staying current.
Watch the full video below:
Source: IndieWire Digital TV
February 2, 2017
Samantha Bee could not have come back from vacation soon enough. On the latest episode of “Full Frontal with Samantha Bee,” the Canadian-born comedian ripped into President Trump as only she can, calling attention to his frightening obsession with loyalty.
When Trump fired acting Attorney General Sally Yates for refusing to implement his shoddily written immigration ban barring citizens from seven predominantly Muslim countries, Bee said, “it was the language of her firing that sent a chill down people’s spines.” Words like “loyalty” and “betrayal” are often used by autocrats, as Joe Scarborough of MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” points out. (Bee prefers to call him “Chandler”).
With a hilarious cutaway to a distinctly early aughts-looking still, Bee recalled another leader who emphasized loyalty. “Remember on ‘Gilmore Girls’ when Paris Geller staffed the school newspaper with her most loyal friends with no regard for talent level?” she said in her characteristically sardonic tone. “It’s like that, but with the leader of the free world and nukes.”
The comedian also got a dig in at potential Energy Secretary Rick Perry’s stint on “Dancing with the Stars,” and basically called Ben Carson Trump’s token black friend. In typical Bee fashion, she manages to end on a slightly positive note, lauding the protests and rallies that have erupted across the country in response to the Muslim ban. If the whole country can channel its inner Rory Gilmore, maybe Stars Hollow still has a chance.
Watch the full segment below:
Source: IndieWire Digital TV
February 1, 2017
Shailene Woodley, Susan Sarandon, Constance Wu & More Discover ‘Alternative Constitution’ For Funny or Die — Watch
“Divergent” star Shailene Woodley is comfortable in fictional dystopian societies, not so much with the potential collapse of American democracy as we know it. In a new video released by Funny or Die, Woodley joins other A-listers who share her concerns about the “alternative constitution” that seems to have found its way into Donald Trump’s tiny hands. And Susan Sarandon, Constance Wu, Amber Heard, and Lizzy Caplan and many more are there to back her up.
As Woodley says in her introduction, the video is a response to the so-called “Muslim Ban,” Trump’s executive order barring citizens of seven primarily Muslim countries from entering the United States. With people tripping over themselves wondering if the ban is constitutional, Woodley and the gang have found the answer: “Historians have confirmed the existence of another constitution,” they say. Apparently, this constitution says: “They with cards of green should be kept away by any means, by wall, by force, or with magic beans.”
But that’s not all, the joke continues: Trump is also aware of an alternative statue of Liberty, a much smaller one, in his home borough of Queens. That one suggests that after you give her your poor, your tired, and your huddled masses, you detain them and send them back to “where you think they came from.” It also says, “Fear outsiders” over and over again, which Susan Sarandon turns into a rousing monologue.
Watch the star-studded sketch below:
Source: IndieWire Digital TV
February 1, 2017
Viral Videos at Sundance: Why Super Deluxe Belongs At Film Festivals (And Watch Their Short, ‘Deer Squad’)
Super Deluxe has developed a name with its bizarre and often political viral videos, but last week the company made a play for the Sundance Film Festival.
Three Super Deluxe projects played in Park City: “Bayard and Me,” a short documentary from Matt Wolf about civil rights leader Bayard Rustin and his adoption of his younger lover, long before same-sex marriage was legalized; “The Chances,” a short form comedy about two deaf best friends, directed by Anna Kerrigan; and “Deer Squad,” a short documentary profile of Kelvin Peña, a Pennsylvania high schooler who befriended a family of deer in his backyard.
Peña’s videos developed an online following big enough to get him recognized by the Uber driver tasked with getting him to Park City in time for his Sundance debut. The film was part of the documentary shorts section, and screened before Sydney Freeland’s “Deidra & Laney Rob a Train.”
In the film, Peña explains the genesis of his special relationship with animals. “I named [the deer] Money, just straight off the dome,” he says. “It was the first thing that came to my mind, ’cause I love money and I felt like I loved the deer. I was like, man, this is lit.”
When fans suggested Peña feed the deer healthier foods, he switched it up from powdered donuts. “Organic freshly cut fruits for them, man. Everybody eats.” This last sentiment has become the Deer Squad catchphrase, and Peña sports an “Everybody Eats” hat throughout the film.
“The day after he started going viral, we sent him an email and shot with him a few days later,” said Scott J. Ross, who directed the film for Super Deluxe with his Public Cinema Club co-founders Pipus Larsen and Kenneth Gug. “I just thought, ‘If we don’t go find him now, then somebody else will probably do it.’ He’s got such a vibrant personality.”
Turner Entertainment first launched Super Deluxe in January 2007 as an ad-supported website for edgy humor, aimed at the 18-34 male demo, but folded Super Deluxe into Adult Swim 18 months later. Turner quietly began to revive the brand in September 2015. It’s led by Wolfgang Hammer, the former CBS Films president who, while a director at Media Rights Capital, developed “House of Cards” before selling it to Netflix.
“It was always intended to be set up very differently from the way everything else is set up,” Hammer said. “It was always intended to be a studio in the truest sense of the word. A company that produces for every single format from the very beginning. It’s not easier to make internet videos — it’s actually quite difficult. But it’s easier from a production perspective, obviously.”
Hammer is careful to distinguish viral videos from the television series and films under development at Super Deluxe, although he admits to wanting to meet younger audiences where they are watching. “Younger generations are not watching in traditional ways,” he said. “It seems silly to confine yourself to one distribution medium.”
That said, the company’s name recognition is largely gained from the viral videos, which should go a long way toward piquing interest in a 15-minute civil rights documentary like “Bayard and Me.” Hammer is proud to offer that variety. “Show me a digital publisher that has pieces in competition at Sundance,” he said. “You can’t point to one.”
Even Peña has to admit he never thought he’d end up at Sundance. For his trip to Park City, Super Deluxe handed their Snapchat account to the teenager who calls himself “the Dominican Snow White.” The resulting compilation plays out like a comedy of errors worthy of its own Sundance slot. Check it out to get an idea of what a SuperDeluxe video is all about:
Source: IndieWire Digital TV
January 27, 2017
I have always been fascinated by movies as engaging visual stories.
For some reason, I started studying Italian as a side interest in NY’s Greenwich Village.
Wow! It was like wearing VR glasses with different cultural lenses to see the world.
Such that I used to joke that every Saturday I literally spent a few hours in Italy…
I started watching Italian films and bringing up ideas in my advanced language classes.
Somebody mentioned, hey why don’t you arrange a screening for the class?
I did. And for a full year in San Diego, I curated a monthly screening of classic films.
Right after I moved back to New York, I resumed my Italian cinema discussion classes.
I started cafePellicola.com a blog that is dedicated to celebrating fine Italian cinema.
The blog was great but I missed the direct interaction with the audience.
So, I produced film festivals that included movie introduction and post-screening Q&A.
Then Cafe Pellicola Live came along where I interviewed online Italian filmmakers and scholars.
During all that time, I was leading digital marketing programs in major corporations.
2 years ago, I relocated to Miami and explored ways to use my corporate experience.
Colliding two worlds, I co-founded the Visual Storytelling Institute (VSI).
4.6B daily content pieces and decreasing attention spans – was our call for adventure.
After researching the space, we developed a 9-step My Visual Story framework.
By which, we help businesses articulate, visualize, and spread their business stories.
Spreading the VSI gospel, we met great new people that saw what we saw.
One of them was Massimo Lico founder of ML Visual Storytelling agency in Rome, Italy.
As part of VSI’s global outreach, we found an exciting common ground.
We’re launching a new Webinar program that nicely ties together this one-line narrative.
On 1/31/17, we’ll introduce an innovative model that truly leverages my 2 passions:
Visual strategies from classic Italian cinema to empower visual storytelling marketers.
And in Italian!
English version of this Webinar will be announced later.
If you have Italian-speaking friends or colleagues, please share. Register for FREE here.
So what is the big lesson from this yarn, you ask?
Pay attention to your side hustles as that’s where your BIG STORY is waiting!
Source: Visual Storytelling