Category Archives: Intetnational Films

“LIKE COTTON TWINES” EDITOR TING YU CRAFTS AN EMOTIONAL AND AWARD-WINNING TALE

Like Cotton Twines is one of those rare films that breaks your heart and inspires you at the same time. In the form of cinema, it achieves what no other informative vehicle can; it gives the audience an inside view of a very real situation in another culture. A story such as this touches not only the viewer but also those who create it. Ting Yu served as the editor for this production, carefully crafting its presentation with writer/director/producer Leila Djansi. This film’s content directly speaks to both women as it relates to the plight of women in this particular part of the world. Ting also notes that there are facets of the story which resonate with her due to her country of origin. As a lauded and respected member of the film industry, Yu proved her value to the film and the emotional impact it has made. Now available for streaming on Netflix, Like Cotton Twines is receiving a great deal of accolades, as it did in Ghana (the location of the film’s story) where it was nominated for thirteen awards (at the Ghana Movie Awards, the biggest national movie awards in Ghana) and won 6 awards, including the best film editing award for Ting.

The film focuses on the traditional culture in Ghana. Told from the perspective of an American teaching volunteer, it focuses on his attempts to save one of his students, a fourteen-year-old girl, from religious slavery. Djansi contacted Ting based on her reel and declares, “There is a rhythm to Ting’s editing that is on par with some of the greatest editors. Whether it’s on the micro or macro level, she excels with every edit. She combines shots in a way that perfectly conveys the message of the scene and overall tone of the film. It’s inconceivable to think that Like Cotton Twines would have received the attention and praise that it has without Ting’s talent. When I approached Ting it was because I knew that I had to have an editor of exceptional ability to help me realize my vision.” Conflicting opinions are healthy in film and often lead to better art. Yu’s perspective and ideas are what led Leila to bring Ting aboard the film. For the scene in which Allison (the teacher) did not find Tuigi (the student) on the bus, Leila wanted to use a long take from the beginning to the end, because of the production value. At Yu’s urging, she agreed that this take was beautiful but too long. Ting created a cut half the length of the original; one which allowed the audience to still feel the same emotional content but make the story move faster and more entertaining. She found that her personality and opinions were very strong as an editor but she had no problem listening to the director to help achieve her vision of the film. These are the traits that endeared her to Leila Djansi. These two professionals worked at a feverish pace to complete Like Cotton Twines on a very tight schedule. Yu recalls, “We had several cuts before we locked the picture. Each time we made a cut, Leila and I would sit down and watch the whole film together; both of us giving each other notes. Leila is very open-minded. She is always willing to listen to my opinion, especially when we think we need to cut something out of the film. It was an ideal situation. We would challenge each other…in a very positive way. I feel that this is one of the ways you achieve such a good end result; when everyone seeks the very best and refuses to take anything less than that. One of my favorite memories is of Leila’s cooking. She is such a good cook and would cook for me, because we were working such long hours to finish on schedule. I’d be making cuts based on our notes and also guessing what she would be making me for lunch. That’s not the kind of experience and positive work environment I think most editors get. Add to that the fact that Like Cotton Twines won so many awards; I’m a little spoiled by it all.”

Perhaps one of the unseen facets of Ting’s approach and excellence as an editor is because she started out pursuing the path of director. Her history with secondary choices has proven quite fortuitous. When Yu didn’t get accepted into her chosen University as a medicine major, she switched to TV and Film production. She found that she had a lot of natural talent and it excited her. She felt a strong connection to American films, in particular the work of Steven Spielberg. It became apparent to her that an editor has a different means by which to structure and shape the message and tone of a film and she found it more intuitive for her personally.

Ting notes that one of the reasons she was interested in the role of editor of Like Cotton Twines was the story of females in a culture which does not see them as equal to men. Because of these aspects of her own country of origin (Yu is from China) she believed that the commonly held view that men are seen as somehow superior to women gave her great empathy for the characters and storyline of the film. She communicates, “It’s silly to feel this way when I know that everyone is equal but, coming from a society where women are not seen as important as men…it is difficult to shake this idea from your own thoughts. Leila and this film do an amazing job communicating these ideas and I am proud to have been a part of it.”

The attention and accolades which Ting Yu received for her work in Like Cotton Twines led directly to more work. Enjoying a wide variety of productions such as editing an African documentary about wildlife, Kickboxer: Retaliation (once again starring Jean-Claude Van Damme), and a trio of live action films based on comics and toys in China, Ting Yu has become one of those editors who is in demand across the planet. It’s written in the stars that those directors whom she has admired will be watching her work and likely remembering her name for future projects.

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ALEXANDRA HARRIS HAS AND DOES NOT HAVE “MISSED CONNECTIONS”

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Sometimes when things go wrong it can be very right. Consider Alexandra Harris. By all accounts people who know her consider her to be very positive and upbeat. There’s no implication of a duplicitous nature in regards to Harris but, opposites can play very well in cinema. As an acclaimed actress in a wide variety of productions, she exhibits all of the acting skill of the notable peers in her industry. The filmmakers of Missed Connections wanted to use Alexandra’s inherent goodness to drive a less amiable character in this production. Missed Connections is a Zero Film Festival Award-winner and was screened at esteemed events like the Raindance Film Festival and Cannes Film Festival. The protagonist of the film is Jamie (played by Joseph Cappellazzi), a man who gets ruthlessly dumped by his girlfriend Sophie (played by Harris). The fallout and aftermath leave him incredibly heartbroken and bitter. In an attempt to get back at the world (and to satiate his friends who tell him to start dating) he begins responding to the “Missed Connections” section of the paper, showing up to dates pretending to be the desired person…with less than fantastic results. Through this process, Jamie actually meets a girl he likes, Emma (played by Rebecca Perfect), and then has to come clean about what he’s done. Even more conflict arises when Jamie must decide whether he’s going to keep trying to get back together with Sophie or move on with someone new.

As Sophie, Jamie ex-girlfriend, Harris is cold but not completely unrelatable. Jamie has some maturing to do and the inherent likability which Alexandra possesses makes the audience question whether some of the blame falls upon his shoulders. It’s precisely because of this quality that Rory O’Donnell (casting director on Missed Connections) was adamant that Alexandra would bring depth to the character of Sophie. O’Donnell professes, “I knew she’d be a great fit. Here we were in London, with all these serious Brits and this bright bubbly American (yes, yes, I know she’s Canadian) came bouncing in and just sort of blew us all away. As a casting director, that’s what you hope for. She’s just very, very good, and very easy to work with. It’s quite simple really. She doesn’t make the production about herself and is able to roll with whatever punches may come her way.”

   Sophie has left Jamie bitter and heartbroken but instead of taking responsibility for his part in the failed relationship, he goes about trying to blame other people. Understanding that her portrayal could easily sway the view of Sophie in the eyes of the audience, Harris took care to present her as someone whom the audience could project their own ideas onto. She relates, “I saw Sophie as one of those girls with a five-year plan. The type of girl who knew where she wanted to be and was constantly evaluating herself and those around her to make sure she was on her way to achieving it. There’s nothing wrong with that but I think sometimes it makes people less flexible with the those who are in their lives. Sophie would describe herself as ‘career oriented’ for sure.”

While her performance is magnetic in Missed Connections, there were a few substantial hurdles for ALexandra to overcome in being cast for the film. It seemed highly unlikely that she would be Sophie in this production. Chris Presswell (writer and director of Missed Connections) confirms, When Rory O’Donnell (our casting director) read the script, he thought Alexandra would be great for Jamie’s love interest (Emma), however, I wanted to keep the cast British as it was supposed to be a British comedy. When Alexandra came in for a read through, I knew I wanted her in the film somehow. She’s such a talented actor, and also a genuinely good and decent person; the perfect combination. Rather than Emma, I liked the idea of her for Sophie (Jamie’s ex-girlfriend) because I knew she’d bring some vulnerability and depth to her. While Sophie’s technically the bad guy of the story, it’s boring if the audience flat out hates her; casting Alexandra was the perfect solution to that. It’s pretty hard to hate her. She’s also very fun to have on set and all that positivity was needed when shooting during the British winter as it gets dark at 4pm!”

To hear Harris tell it, the audition wasn’t as much of a cinch as the director implies. It is a testament to her abilities that an early misstep during the audition did not derail Presswell’s desire to use her in the film. It’s often said that bad choices lead to great stories and this aptly applies to Alexandra’s initial choice in the audition. Ever self-effacing, she reveals, “When I was called in, it was for Jamie’s love interest, Emma. Rory had told me it was supposed to be a British dark comedy, so I thought ‘Right, I’ll be British then.’ Keep in mind, I had only been living in the UK for about 6 months and was still under the impression that all British people sounded like Hugh Grant. I’d also never performed with a British accent (I played an American in The Last Man, which Rory had cast me in pretty much as soon as I arrived in the UK). I went in and did THE WORST British accent. It was cringe worthy. Chris was so polite and kept a straight face but I remember Rory just looking horrified. He was nice enough to take me aside and say gently ‘Why don’t you try it with your American accent.’ which I then did. I immediately felt the energy in the room change. Both Chris and Rory relaxed a lot! That experience is something that the two of them still tease me about to this day. The positive result was that I started taking accent work seriously, studying with a teacher and performing as a Brit towards the end of my time living there. I remember being so proud to invite Chris to my performance of ‘The Cherry Orchard’ where I was playing a British Charlotta and afterwards I questioned him and he just looked at me and said “Well, Alex, I’ll give it to you, for a second I thought you were British, but I’ll never forget your Emma”. It’s true what they say, first impressions are real!”

Missed Connections was Alexandra’s first time shooting in London and second time filming in the UK. Her first British film, The Last Man, was shot in the woods outside of London in Essex. Filming in London proper is a much different experience than in Essex, her Canadian homeland, or even Hollywood. The Brits are some of the best actors in the world and Harris took every advantage to soak up the experience of the unique British approach. UK productions are more grass roots and unpolished compared to other film centers, on purpose. The feeling on UK shoots of “we’re all in this together” permeates all levels of production. This lack of hierarchy was something to which Harris was unaccustomed but welcomed. This however does not mean that it was any less challenging. The actress notes, “Chris [Presswell] is soooo British. When I say that, I mean that he doesn’t’t suffer fools and really doesn’t overpraise. When he offers a compliment, it’s genuine and it means a lot. We were on the same page from the beginning so we didn’t’t have to talk about the character too much. I would say ‘I’ve been that girlfriend’ and he would say ‘I’ve dated that girl’ so we knew where to go from there. We knew we didn’t want Sophie to be a bitch but rather someone who was at their ropes end.”

The short days and the brutal London winter temperature were unsuccessful in squelching Alexandra’s well-known positivity. Through her performance and a shrewd stroke of casting, she presented Sophie as an emotionally complex character. What might have originally been a secondary antagonist for this film became a stand-out character which captivated audiences. Mentioning how being different was a prominent facet of her character and her involvement in Missed Connections, Harris recalls, “It became the running joke on set that I had to be called the ‘evil American’ because Canadian’s can’t be mean; however, I think my character proved them wrong.”

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ZHEN LI PRODUCES BRILLIANCE WITH WIT IN “GENGHIS KHAN CONQUERS THE MOON”

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Genghis Kahn Conquers the Moon. The title of this film sounds…well, eccentric. Even its producer Zhen Li admits to being uncomfortable at first with the title and premise. He comments, “At the beginning, I though the idea was a bit bizarre, then I decided it was wacky instead of bizarre. It’s very bold to do a project about a well-known historic figure doing something against the historical fact. However, after reading the script and understanding what the metaphor implies, I abruptly changed this opinion. The story is special and unique with wit, humor, and intellectual sarcasm.” You don’t have to take the word of Li though; the achievements and recognitions of this film speak volumes. Genghis Kahn Conquers the Moon was an official selection at the Cannes Film Festival (France) 2016 (Short Film Corner), Sci-Fi Film Festival (Australia) 2015, Camerimage International Film Festival (Poland) 2016, The London International Festival of Science Fiction and Fantastic Films 2016, Los Angeles Independent Film Festival Awards 2015, Taipei Film Festival (台北電影節) 2017 Nominated for Best Short Film, Los Angeles Independent Film Festival Awards 2015 [Best Actor], and a 20th Century Fox Visual Effects Fellowship 2015 Recipient, and countless others too numerous to list. This diverse list of accolades attests to both the exceptional story and production as well as its universal appeal to different cultures spanning the globe. Celebrated actors James Hong and Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa perform as the two main characters (Kahn and the wizard) in this film and bring the weight of their impressive Hollywood resumes to this production. Zhen Li’s confident and experienced presence is felt in every aspect of this film from the performers onscreen to its presence on the film festival circuit.

  There is no denying that VFX has created a situation in modern cinema that takes any idea a filmmaker might have and manifests astonishingly believable imagery. This eliminates the need for the viewer to suspend their belief as a courtesy to the storyline; the actions are clearly visible and believable for all to see. One bit of reality that VFX has not suspended is the truth that budgets still exist in filmmaking and it is the role of the producer to figure out what fits into the financial constraints and what does not. Because the premise for Genghis Kahn Conquers the Moon was finalized pre-budget, Zhen Li was faced with a great idea and cast but in need of ways to pay for this. Utilizing crowd funding, studio sponsorship, and other sources, Li created a plan and budget that would allow the film to possess the desired production value. The impressive look of this film allows one to easily understand that the VFX budget was both sizable and well worth it.

Revealing the evolution of his approach, Zhen states, “Our original plan was to shoot scenes in Death Valley with the spectacular landscape of an apocalypse. After some research, we found it will be over 130 degrees Fahrenheit and thus impossible for us to shoot there.  We luckily found Lucern Dry Lake which has a similar look to our vision. It was still extremely hot in summer, as there was no cloud and trees, only with direct sunlight. We rented 4 RVs and had huge fans blowing cool air off of giant ice cubes to cool down the crew.”

While this took care of the Earth scenes, the moon was the actual VFX challenge. Rather than constructing a large scale lunar surface, Li had a miniature of the moon’s topography built with a gradually-changing scale ratio. Scenes were shot on a green stage with the moon’s surface as a plate. These were then composited together in post-production. VFX supervisor Gene Warren III (whose credits include: Hellboy, The Expendables, Resident Evil: Apocalypse, Underworld, The Simpsons) professes, “Genghis Kahn Conquers the Moon is an ambitious project of impressive imagination and great execution. As a producer, Zhen Li did an incredibly amazing job, which allowed us to be able to make Khan land on the Moon.” When a film has a premise that is asking a lot of the audience, the images are often the tipping point for them to invest completely in the story.

 

It should go without stating that what is paramount to every production is the incredible performances of the actors. For Genghis Kahn Conquers the Moon, Li procured a cast of minuscule size but immense impact. Most notably of these were Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa (as Kahn) and James Hong (as the wizard). The credits of these two actors spans many of the most beloved films and TV productions of the past thirty to forty years. The gravitas and levity that they brought to this film is evident from the moment they first appear on the screen. Zhen discovered that this is well founded. He notes, “They are both so established and recognizable from their many Hollywood large-scale studio productions; even so, they like to work with younger filmmakers who tell unique stories and experiment with different styles of performance. Working with these experienced actors, their devotion and enthusiasm touched me. Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa had to wear the Genghis Khan costume including the helm, armors, and leather boots. The costume was more than 20 pounds and he was wearing it in the insanely hot weather. He was sweating like a fountain but he never once complained. He kept working until the sweat ruined his makeup and then we would have to re-do it. The improvisation between these two lead actors brought a great deal to the film.”

  Genghis Kahn Conquers the Moon was an official selection at the Cannes Film Festival; a festival so notable and respected that even those with no knowledge of the film community understand what an achievement and honor it is to have your film selected to appear there. Cannes is more than just recognition; it opens a window of opportunities to both show films and see films from the most talented filmmakers all over the world. It is a community of the upper echelon and provides inspiration and a springboard to future projects. While in attendance at Cannes to support Genghis Kahn Conquers the Moon, Li’s film attracted crowds and garnered him invitations to some of his favorite directors’ screenings, such as:  Woody Allen’s Café Society, Pedro Almodovar’s JULIETA, Asghar Farhadi’s The Salesman, Park Chan-wook’s The Handmaiden, Paul Verhoeven’s ELLE, Maren Ade’s Toni Erdmann, ken Loach’s I, Daniel Blake, and many other internationally lauded productions.

Perhaps the highest indicator of the quality of your work comes not from the critics or the box office but rather, those whom you work with in the industry. James Hong (Daytime Emmy Award-Winner and Genghis Kahn in this film) states, “It’s great to work with this young talented producer. Zhen Li will soon be known as the driving force in the film industry.”

 

 

 

XIANG NAN GONG ENABLES THE PRODUCTIONS THAT TELL THE STORIES OF CHINA TO THE WORLD

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It has been said that everyone has a story. In the world of television and film production, writers and directors are considered to be the creators of these stories. While this may be true, without the mastery of a technical director and producer…none of these tales would ever reach an audience. Having a vision is a very different thing from having the skills and knowledge to manifest it. Xiang Nan Gong has served this role for decades at Shandong Radio and Television, earning him the status as one of China’s most respected professionals in this field. During his time with Shandong he oversaw the multiple technical facets in the creation of documentary and scripted series. From massive scale variety shows to location documentary series which told the history of the Chinese people, Gong designed and facilitated lighting, staging, sound, and a myriad of other components which are essential to delivering the filmmakers vision. Xiang Nan might be the least well-known member the production team but he is definitely the most vital.

As with all cultures, the Chinese people are interested in the history of their ancestors and land. A country of such immense size and variety of inhabitants has many stories to tell. “The Story of Yili River” is a documentary depicting the Yili River from the perspective of the cheerful running water line.  It explores the Yili river people’s folk customs, rich life, and delicacy. Gong focused on his expertise as a recording engineer for this production, recording and placing the authentic music of the inhabitants of this region to tell the folk customs of the people on both sides of the Yili River.

Xiang Nan worked closely with the director and a small team of professionals in the studio to create and recreate the sounds of the Yimeng People for the “Shandong Report.” Layering a series of sounds and sound patterns, Gong created the sound design with a mixture of authentic music, location recordings, and studio sonics which depicted the hard lives of these people. This village is surrounded by high mountains and steep cliffs, streams, and other harsh natural environmental factors. To properly recreate and communicate what these inhabitants experience required a consummate expert like Xiang Nan.

As technical director and producer on Shandong’s “Sun Bin Military Strategist”, Gong aided this production which tells of a man who also lived through a difficult situation but persevered and elevated himself to the level of great respect. Famous for receiving the punishment of face tattooing and having his knee caps removed, Sun Bin later became one of the most respected and trusted strategist of his country’s era. While remarking that his difficulties were nothing compared to Sun Bin’s, Xiang Nan concedes that the equipment of the 90s which he used was less than desirable for this thirteen-episode historical series. He tells, “Historical dramas are grand in scale with many layers of sound. This is what makes it so believable to the viewer. While your conscious mind may not notice it, something in your unconscious tells you that you are really there amidst these battle scenes and different locations due to the small details. Today’s state of the art technology makes the process much less cumbersome but back when we made this series, it took many hours to achieve what can happen in minutes now. Regardless, the finished product is what is important and ‘Sun Bin Military Strategist’ was very well received and popular.”

Another of Gong’s productions, “44 Notes” received international and domestic acclaim. “44 Notes” won the first prize from the State Council Information Office and the Ministry of radio and television, the “Golden Bridge Award” in the United States, Japan, Germany, Taiwan, Hong Kong and other countries and regions, and was adapted for television drama production at the center in Beijing. This documentary shows the bicycling trip of teacher Du Xiangjun and forty- four of his students (of the Zibo Normal School in the Shandong Province) as they made their way to the capitol to perform a concert. Along the way, they sing and experience a number of hardships on their journey. Half way between reality TV and unscripted drama, “44 Notes” called upon Gong to be prepared for an unlimited amount of variables that could affect the filming and recording of this production. Its international acclaim is a testament to his expertise on this project.

As a loving husband and proud father of a daughter, Xiang Nan was especially happy to assume the duties of technical director and producer of Shandong’s “The Charm of Women.”

The program is the first female Chinese series about female characters with outstanding contributions from all walks of life. It introduces the work, study, life, and successful careers of each woman. Shot in documentary style, Gong took particular care to oversee the lighting and sound to present these women with the respect and admiration which their achievements deserve. While certainly not the most famous subjects of the many productions he has overseen, Xiang Nan professes that they are among the most important because they serve as an example to current and future generations like his daughter, exhibiting the great importance and impact that Chinese women have on their families and society.

As the professional who literally “sets the stage” and supplies the sounds on a wide variety of productions, telling the stories of China’s past and present; with international award-winning productions to his credit, the respect of his industry, and a long history at Shandong Radio and Television, Xiang Nan Gong is among the elite technical directors and producers who continues to bring new ideas to an ever expanding production community.

EYE DROPS – AVNER MAYER SHOWS A KINDER WORLD

When art is malevolent it is divisive, seeking to focus society on what “others” are doing to make your life worse. When it is mediocre, it serves little purpose at all. But, when art is at its best, it gathers all peoples in and draws their inherent goodness out of them. The creators of art are no different than every other segment of society in the fact that they must daily choose to use their abilities to draw us closer to each other or tear us apart. The WATER Project seeks to cultivate the former. Also known as the Israeli-Palestinian Cinematic Project, this endeavor saw ten Israeli and Palestinian directors embark on a journey to create films, fiction or documentary inspired by water. Under the belief that water symbolizes the source of possibilities at the primal core of all things, these filmmakers took part in joint meetings in Tel-Aviv presenting their ideas to one another. Produced with full creative freedom with mixed crews of Palestinians and Israelis, these films reflected the personal and courageous perspectives of both sides view of reality. The film Eye Drops was part of the WATER project which was screened at more than 20 Festivals around the world, receiving significant press attention. The project premiere was at the Prestigious Venice international film festival as the opening film of the “Critic week” program. The WATER project received an Amnesty award for its effort to bring Palestinian and Israelis closer. Eye Drops is a reaffirming vision of the ability of all people to see beyond their differences, particularly in a subject matter as provocative as this one. The film received global attention at festivals including the: Tertio Millennio Film Festival (Italy), Stockholm International Film Festival, Busan International Film Festival (South Korea), New Middle East Cinema film festival in Philadelphia, and many others. The look that Cinematographer (Israel born) Avner Mayer created depicts both the despair and hope of the people and this land. Overcoming the almost instinctual reaction of this land’s natives and the world’s view of it, Meyer’s imagery and design enables the audience to see the humanity underlying it all.

It’s easy to make assumptions about someone without getting to truly know them as an individual. That can be applied to the viewing audience of a news program, a film, or even a neighbor. In Eye Drops, Mohammad Bakri lives with his two sons (Saleh and Ziad) in a small flat in Tel Aviv. Their neighbor Sarah (played by Rona Zilberman) is a Holocaust survivor who asks them to assist her with her eye-drop medication. A unique and mysterious connection grows among them. The movie is about compassion and the ability to get along in spite of differences in religion and race. The filmmakers approach to the composition was to create a feeling of empathy. In order to convey this, the movie is almost always shot at the eye level of the characters. The hope for this was to allow viewers to see through the character’s eyes and souls. Many of the shots include the entire cast in order to create a feeling of unity. Exterior shots were designed to be cold and intimidating, almost as a mirror to the political climate in Israel at that point during the second Intifada (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Second_Intifada). In contrast, the houses are portrayed as places of great warmth in hopes of showing the love and compassion hiding inside this political climate. All that is need is to go into someone’s home and talk with them in order to find real, warm human beings.

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It was Mayer’s task to create these emotional vignettes for Eye Drops. Mohammad Bakri (director/writer/actor) needed a highly skilled professional behind the camera who not only understood how to help him capture the story but to also understood the people and emotions that motivated them. Designing everything from the lighting to the framing of the shot necessitated a professional and emotional eye. Avner communicates, “As a DP I feel my work is always to translate the director’s vision into images. A lot of the preproduction process for me concentrates in creating the visual bible of the movie. When you work with new filmmakers, there are two main problems. First of all, their visual lexicon is not always clear; meaning you need to find a common language to talk about images. That’s always hard but it seems to be smoother with more experienced filmmakers. The second issue regards logistics and the amount of time needed to achieve some effects. It’s much easier to talk about shots than actually to perform them on set. It’s important that the director will realize what is possible to do and what’s not inside the budget and time constraints, prioritizing the important story beats. People don’t often realize that this is a lot of what my job entails. Mohammed is well known and respected in the Israel film community so it was a pleasure to work with him and it was much easier than working with a ‘new’ director…but there are always challenges. Mohammed wanted to shoot in the actual real locations. It was a blessing and a curse as a DP. The locations had a lot of charm and were very photogenic but the big minus was regarding space. This was mostly in regards to the house, which was a little too small. We were limited in our options with that space. In the end we found creative solutions and solved that issue.”

Eye Drops received voluminous praise and accolades from the community and critics. One of the most vocal fans of Mayer’s work on the film came from its creator. The fact that Mohammad was also the lead actor in the Eye Drops made Avner much more aware of the acting. Normally this cinematographer focuses on the visual side of the imagery; did the characters land in the right place? Is the lighting precise? Etc. Bakri praises Avner’s work and awareness declaring, “I honestly couldn’t have done this movie without Avner’s Support. It was my first narrative film, and coming into the movie there were a lot of elements I didn’t expect. Avner was my right hand, helping me in planning the scene blocking and shot selection. We were on a tight schedule and Avner got us there in time. I really think Avner is a real talent! He’s very committed to his work, he communicates well, and his visual perception and imagery is stunning! I’m never surprised to hear that he’s doing well in the industry, he deserves it!”

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The climax of the film is when Sarah’s eyes are finally well enough to make out the faces of her helpers. She sees that they are in fact the individuals who she would have avoided if she had seen with her vision rather than with her heart. Eye Drops makes a profound statement that will hopefully predict the future.

 

 

 

 

 

JEAN PAULO LASMAR CREATES ART FROM AN UNCOMFORTABLE LIVING SCENARIO

Brazilian Jean Paulo Lasmar is most commonly recognized as a Producer & DP but storyteller is probably the most accurate description of him. Director of Photography or Producer are the most easily labeled tools which he utilizes but that says more about our attempt to place a label on him than it does the actual way in which he creates. Consider the fact that he spent some time in Panama and Indonesia observing the people, their surroundings, their interactions… producing documentaries to tell their stories. From this he moved on to Latin America, the UK, South America, West Sumatra, and eventually the US. In his travels he simultaneously also pursued his love of photography, capturing the visual personalities of the people and places he encountered. Lasmar has spent his life thus far seeking out the less obvious and too often overlooked tales hidden in those not so celebrated. It is his perspective that there are far more interesting stories than the ones that often repackaged and repeated to the audience. While he employs the skills that are tried and true, Jean Paulo’s true talent lies in his ability (a benefit of his love of photography) in recognizing the beauty that is found yet masked by a veneer of the mundane. His film O Condominio (The Condominium, as writer/producer/director) came about as a result of his experience living in Sao Paulo, Brazil. While O Condominio is a film that was conceived and created by Lasmar, he has lent his talents to numerous award-winning films such as: Looking at the Stars (Documentary Winner of a Student Academy Award in 2015), the live action animated Mosquito: The Bite of Passage (2016 Telly Award Winner), Surviving a Funeral (screened at the 2014 Cannes Film Festival), and numerous others. While these films and his work have received copious accolades, Lasmar’s films are recognizable by the introspection of normal people and the unexpected complexity of their lives and situations.

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Anyone who has spent some time in communal (esque) living spaces understands the bargain and sense of unease that exists in this lifestyle. Jean Paulo has known little else. He confirms, “The world I was creating in this film is very familiar to me. São Paulo is a vertical metropolis with thousands of resident buildings all over the city. I lived in three apartment complexes before I decided to write the story.” The inspiration to make O Condminio came at a time when he was not only living in an apartment but also when Lasmar was preparing to make another film. He recalls, “I had the rights to write and direct my version of a short story called ‘The Bird’ written by the famous Brazilian writer Regina Drummond. It is a story about euthanasia. It’s a very interesting and heart-wrenching story. Things weren’t falling into place as I had wanted and my wife Silvia took me to lunch, just to get out of the house. She literally dragged me out of the house. We stepped inside the elevator and there was a note on the wall. There was a group meeting happening soon to decide many items related to the building’s welfare and maintenance. Right then and there I saw the story; the characters, conflicts, who would approve, who would not. These group meetings are hell. They are chaotic. People really transform themselves in these situations and some really stand out as great leaders. We came back from lunch and I wrote twelve pages. I had been looking for some grand statement for a film and there was a great idea being served up to me.”

O Condominio is a satire about living together. The plot centers around the intense routine of a family man who becomes the building manager of a problematic apartment complex. Estevan (the protagonist)’s job is to take care of the building but he is also a family man. He needs to provide for his family. There more involved he becomes with the problems of the apartment complex, the less time he spends with his wife and kids. These opposing forces drive his internal conflict. Nestor, one of the problematic residents, wants to bring him down. The story becomes political; there’s a dispute for power. It’s a metaphor of a city, a state, and/or a country. There is the side which controls the system and there is the opposite side. Estevan ultimately has to make the decision of whether he should take care of his family or sacrifice his role as a family man for the sake of the others. He chooses his family but the power wheel is cyclical and will never end. It is a constant in human behavior. There is sarcasm in the aftermath of the events. Estevan becomes the opposition and he won’t be silenced. This conflict is analogous to our interaction with others as well as our own internal conflict. It’s a factor that Lasmar contends with in his multiple roles behind the camera. Writer/director Suzana Amaral relates to this as well. Amaral has been recognized for her films at the Berlin International Film Festival, the Havana Film Festival, The Moscow International Film Festival, the Cartagena Film Festival, and countless others. About Jean Paulo’s work, she comments, “Jean Paulo is a superb filmmaker whose capabilities behind the scenes are only rivaled by the glowing reception his work frequently receives. Jean Paulo has consistently earned widespread admiration and respect for his work. His accomplishments are evidence of the vast range of his work, as his talents span medium and mode.” One of the greatest difficulties with someone as talented as Lasmar is delegating when circumstances require. However, this is what enables the process of film production and allows for opportunities in the community. It also results in achievements such as O Condominio’s Official Selection at the 2012 Mostra Brasil Brasilianische Filmschau, in Munich, Germany. Jean Paulo concedes, “With my previous directing experience in O Outro Jorge, I felt like I paid too much attention to the frame, the composition, the light, and the camera movements. I should have focused more on the story and directing the actors. In O Condominio, as a writer/director and producer, I choose to do just that; focusing on the story and directing actors. I really prepared myself to do it. I studied directing actors with Fatima Toledo, one of the most talented actor’s coaches in Brazil. I also worked with Suzana Amaral. She is a great author and director who really knows how to direct her actors. I knew I had to trust my DP; to let him do his work. I tell you, it’s very difficult to do that when you are a cinematographer. Gabriel Morais is a fantastic cinematographer. He is young and very talented. He understood quickly what I wanted, and I finally let go and focused on my tasks. I also stepped down from editing, which is something that I usually do in my films. I wanted to collaborate and I wanted my crew to feel that their work was in this film. I also believed there can be a middle ground in terms of getting involved in the work of the other departments, after all the director is the maestro and it’s his vision. I just wanted to focus on the story and the performances. Nowadays, I work a lot closer with my collaborators, that’s how it should be.”

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This is the lesson of both the film O Condominio and the filmmaker; learn how to work together for the good of all and, if possible, nurture the talents of others. When people are invested, whether in their personal life or their professional one, it is difficult to accept that things can never be done in the exact manner you would pursue…but the sense of achieving success together will likely be the most beneficial to all. Art imitates life and life can be enriched by art. This symbiotic relationship exists because of artists like Jean Paulo Lasmar; those who create and allow others to be a part of the successful results.

PRODUCER BEATRICE VON SCHWERIN ENABLES “ALL THESE VOICES”

­­­­    There have been many, many films about World War II. With subject matter as prolific as this it is difficult to find a new angle. The film All These Voices is one of the few films to achieve this goal. The film’s producer Beatrice von Schwerin understood this when the opportunity came her way. While history informs us about the events, the arts enable us to comprehend the lessons learned as well as to take on the emotional quotient of these events. It is often true that the perspective of a war is viewed differently based on your geography. It is this fact that helps to make von Schwerin the perfect person to oversee the making of All These Voices. In addition to her excellence as a producer, Beatrice hails from Europe; giving her an ideal perspective to produce this Hollywood film. A member of Swedish nobility and possessing a resume of celebrated European film work, this producer brings many obvious talents…as well as a few less obvious ones. All These Voices struck a resonant chord. The award-winning film was screened at a wide variety of festivals including; AFI Film Fest (Los Angeles, CA), Carmel Film Festival (Carmel, CA), American Film Festival (Wroclaw, Poland), LA Polish Film Festival (Los Angeles, CA) ICARO Festival International de Cine (Guatemala) Las Vegas Film Festival (Las Vegas, NV – Winner Best International Short), 24 FPS International Short Film Festival (Abilene, TX), Kino Otok Isola Cinema Festival (Izola and Ljubljana, Slovenia), LA Jewish Film Festival (Los Angeles, CA), Resistance Film Festival (Tehran, Iran), Southway Film Festival (Mykolaiyy, Ukraine), Centre Des Arts (Geneva, Switzerland – Special Screening and Lecture), European Student Film Festival (Geneva, Switzerland – Special Screening and Lecture), Newport Beach Film Festival (Newport, CA), FIC Autor Film Festival  (Guadalajara, Jalisco, Mexico), Washington DC Jewish Film Festival (Washington DC, MA), Woods Hole Film Festival (Woods Hole, MA). It’s important to view this list as a whole to understand that All These Voices had such a major appeal to so many different sections of the world population. Based on the locations of these screenings, we can easily assume that regardless of cultural, economic, or religious affiliation, these audiences were intrigued and attentive to the film’s message. This is proof that films which don’t involve CGI or superheroes can have mass appeal to audiences with many varied lifestyles. The fact that Beatrice was able to produce this film on a minor fraction of the average Hollywood budget is a major achievement for any production these days.

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All These Voices is highly unique in the way that the story is presented. The film takes place in the days following the end of World War II. A young SS officer has sought out refuge by hiding in an abandoned Polish theater. A theater troupe of survivors enters to celebrate the end of the war. Having camouflaged his identity, and remaining mute so as not to reveal his native German tongue, the soldier joins the survivors in a vibrant celebration. As he witnesses the expression of their painful past, he is forced to come to terms with his complicity in their grief. It’s an idea that seems quite possible to have occurred in post WWII Europe. Multiplying the ease with which the audience can accept the story is the location. Nothing could be as appropriate as watching a film in a theater while the action takes place in a theater. Of course, with the events taking place in 1945 Poland, the surroundings needed to reflect that era. Beatrice chose the Roxie Theater in Downtown Los Angeles. Hollywood continually proves that its ability to be malleable is one of its greatest assets. This attribute, in addition to the talented community, is what has interested von Schwerin in possibly pursuing a residency in LA even though she has already experienced great success as a producer in Europe. She concedes, “Hollywood has always been the center of film; I don’t think that that will ever change. The film industry has been active here for over 100 years. The major studios are still located in and around Hollywood. It falls naturally that once a center for any type of industry is built, it stays there. I am actually looking forward to the day when I am part of a movie that will shoot its full production days in Los Angeles; it would be wonderful, to be closer to home.  I know that the shorter commute home would be nice [laughs].”

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The production All These Voices took on some highly difficult tasks, not the least of which was the presentation of its theme. Making sure that the story was told in a proper and respectful way was the greatest challenge. The Holocaust and the effect that it has had on people is a very important story to tell.  Beatrice reveals that she gained some new knowledge from her director and multiple-productions collaborator David Henry Gerson. She notes, “I had what I thought was good knowledge about the Holocaust and its effect on people. However, working with David Henry Gerson helped me to get a stronger sense of it. Seeing it from David’s point of view, he has family that lived through the holocaust, and hearing his stories together with their stories has opened my understanding. None of my direct family has ever lived through such a trauma, so this has definitely helped me understand in more detail what the survivors had gone through.” It is obvious that Gerson was appreciative of von Schwerin’s attention and care of the subject matter as well as her producing skills as he comments, “Beatrice cares deeply about protecting and supporting the creative vision of the film. Working with her on All These Voices made this more apparent to me than ever before. She is an utmost professional, who inspires greatness and action in her crews and those working with her. Everyone performs their best having Beatrice around as a producer. Regardless of whether it was with myself as the director of any other member of the cast and crew, she listened carefully, assessed scenarios swiftly and effectively, and always, always, always was 110% prepared. Her intelligence governs all of her decisions. She has a rare ability as a leader and is a great force of positivity, effectiveness, and inventiveness. Making this film without her would be inconceivable.” The film’s writer, Brennan Elisabeth Peters echoes this sentiment stating, “As the screenwriter on All These Voices, having a producer as capable as Beatrice supporting my vision was crucial to its development and execution. As an artist, an important part of my process is thinking in terms of possibilities rather than limitations, especially on the script level. Unfortunately, due to the nature of filmmaking as a particularly logistically challenging and collaborative art form, this is not always possible. On other projects, I frequently feel the need to hone my vision and rein in expectations based on the limitations of my collaborators. However, with Beatrice on All These Voices, I truly felt free and uninhibited to write a script that was ambitious, gratifying, and, ultimately, award-winning. That was due in large part to my faith and trust in Beatrice as a producer.” One of the most difficult obstacles for the film is probably unnoticed by the majority of American audiences. All These Voices is extremely detailed in its recreation of the era and location of the events taking place…even down to the language being spoken. As producer, von Schwerin had to be involved in just about every aspect of the film production. This meant making sure that the dialogue was spoken correctly and believably. Beatrice states, “The cast on ATV were a very special bunch. Seeing that the film is all in Polish and German, probably the hardest part was making sure that the dialogue and pronunciation was correct. Parts of our cast were born and raised in Poland and some were not. Our film was seen all over the world, including places where Polish and German are the native languages; this required us to be painstakingly critical of the language in order to be authentic. I’m really proud that we were able to achieve this goal so well.”

It’s hard to imagine a young Beatrice von Schwerin roaming the grounds of her family’s castle in Sweden and then maturing into this commanding presence on set. How many of us would leave a comfortable life of adulation and nobility in order to face challenges day after day on a production? Beatrice conveys this commitment best in her own words declaring, “Producing is never an easy job, if it were easy, I would probably not be working as a producer. I need a proper challenge and producing gives me that challenge. When I moved to LA I promised myself that once I stop smiling when I see the Hollywood sign, I would quit my job and move back to Scandinavia. I am still smiling.”

 

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