THE FILM YAP » 2010 Heartland Film Festival http://www.thefilmyap.com We Never Shut Up About Movies Tue, 21 Oct 2014 04:19:05 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=4.0 Dumbstruck http://www.thefilmyap.com/2011/05/11/dumbstruck/ http://www.thefilmyap.com/2011/05/11/dumbstruck/#comments Wed, 11 May 2011 04:17:59 +0000 http://www.thefilmyap.com/?p=15472 Continue reading ]]>

Film festivals are typically rife with quirky, unusual documentaries about a certain group of people that XXXXXXX. The idea is it’s just so silly that you’ll watch and enjoy it, then be surprised by the humanity behind the craziness.

And I give you “Dumbstruck,” a doc that follows ventriloquists, which is fortunately getting a wider release than most docs of its type. Among the crazy groups I’ve seen followed with a camera — from spoiled suburban high school students to video game champions to old people singing rock music to barbershop quartets — this one has to rank high among those you wouldn’t necessarily want to hang out with for 90 minutes.

“Dumbstruck” begins at the annual ventriloquists’ convention, where the dummies chatter all day long, and they have their puppets with them, too. (Hope you don’t mind that I got the “he’s the dummy” joke out of the way early.)

Of course, as with any interesting group, its members have interesting, heartbreaking and hopeful backstories.

For starters, we have Terry Fator, who landed on the TV show “America’s Got Talent,” then, after nearly being laughed off the stage before he even started, won the whole darn thing and turned that into a multimillion dollar gig in Las Vegas.

That, of course, makes Fator the Donald Trump of puppetmasters, and the rest of the group treats him like a rock star: He signs autographs, hands out words of encouragement and offers critiques of his colleagues’ work (upon request).

And we meet Kim, a former beauty queen hoping to reach what is, for most ventriloquists, the “big time” — a recurring gig on a cruise liner.

There’s also Dan, who just scored that gig and is finding the pressures of being on the water for weeks and months at a time stressful to a marriage.

Dylan is a 13-year-old kid who found solace next to a dummy, trying to hone his craft and win the respect of his peers.

And there’s Wilma, a transsexual woman, whose circumstances the filmmakers curiously never address. It’s odd to ignore that particular white elephant, especially when they once show her living as a man and talking about her son — whom she hasn’t seen for ages and whose mother and grandmother have told that Wilma is dead. (Even as the filmmakers reveal these images, Wilma goes to the lengths of not using gender-specific pronouns; nothing more than “medical problems” are discussed.)

Wilma, as it turns out, is also having financial issues and is about to lose her house but for the charity of her fellow puppeteers.

It all adds up to an entertaining, engaging film that stands well with those quirky documentaries that too often don’t get the run they deserve.

hesitance 

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10 Mountains 10 Years http://www.thefilmyap.com/2010/10/17/10-mountains-10-years/ http://www.thefilmyap.com/2010/10/17/10-mountains-10-years/#comments Mon, 18 Oct 2010 02:28:35 +0000 http://www.thefilmyap.com/?p=16085 Continue reading ]]>

Click Here For Showtimes

I feel like a monster for writing this review. Saying anything negative about this film is like talking poorly about puppies, the Holocaust, or babies. Oh wait. 10 Mountains, 10 Years is a great idea for a documentary. It is about a fundraiser for Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s research which consists of climbing a different mountain every year for ten years.

It’s inspiring, innovating, and necessary. This is a wonderful organization, but it’s important to separate the group from the movie. After unveiling its premise, the movie feels completely flat. This is the opportunity to really display some of the most personal stories, but everything melds together in this film.

There are scenes that should totally work on paper, but have no pulse on screen. During the climb, the mountaineers are reading aloud letters from those who are sick. With the location and the people and the words, there should be tears but the filmmaking betrays these moments. (Too many of them as well). It’s difficult to focus on the words because the film isn’t providing the pathos and energy.

What does work is the saddening stats about these diseases. Actually seeing the people worked better than any of the interviews (Again too many of them). This is an organization that should be praised and there should be a more effective film to talk about it. This just seems like a DVD extra or something to present to companies. Even with Anne Hathaway narrating, it isn’t lifted towards something cinematic.

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Geoff Marslett, “Mars” http://www.thefilmyap.com/2010/10/17/geoff-marslett-mars/ http://www.thefilmyap.com/2010/10/17/geoff-marslett-mars/#comments Sun, 17 Oct 2010 19:44:46 +0000 http://www.thefilmyap.com/?p=15959 Continue reading ]]>

For his first feature film, Austin, Texas-based director Geoff Marslett decided to use a live-action animation to tell a story about a romance blossoming from a fictional mission to Mars, titled, aptly, “Mars.”

In this interview Marslett talks about casting his film, using a hybrid animation style, and creating a president that avoids referencing politics.

How did you get started on this project?

I have actually been making short films and parts of other filmmakers’ larger works for the past  thirteen years or so, but this was my first feature film. I had written a feature script based on a short I did back in 2001. I had been shopping it around a little and finally gotten some interest in funding it in 2007, but as funding can be in this business, it got a bit delayed, so the two of us initially producing the film took it upon ourselves to make the movie one way or the other. we were tired of waiting.

Pretty quickly I realized the scope of that film was going to be larger than the two of us could afford, so I tried to rein myself in a little and wrote a new script I thought I could make on our resources. It turned out to be an animated sci-fi romantic comedy. I am not sure I really made things any easier for ourselves, but we did stick to it.

The script was based on a short film I wrote in the early 2000s and never made. the technique was one I had just finished developing on a short film, “Bubblecraft”, that I finished in 2006. this technique allowed us to take the simple romance and set it anywhere in the world,or in this case anywhere in the galaxy. and thus mars was started.

Why did you choose animation, and particularly this style of animation?

It is a very different type of animation… hybrid animation. A lot of folks ask, `Is this rotoscoped?´ and I say yes, sort of. Basically it is a hybrid of image processing and digital rotoscoping for the characters and a combination of hand drawn and 3D animation for the backgrounds and props.

I wanted a look that preserved performance and expression from the actors. I wanted them recognizably them and for their emotions to be clear, but I also wanted it to feel a little otherworldly or fantasy-like. So from the beginning I was trying to find a look that walked the line between live action and animation.

I wanted to give my take on romance. and my take is that romance is a wonderfully attractive thing, but also a thing that is always a little bit out of reach. What you think you are pursuing is changed by your very pursuit of it, and it changes you right back. So that thing you went after is never there as you imagined it. I wanted the visuals to reflect this sense of being relatable but slightly unreal. I wanted it to look like a hand colored photograph or a really detailed graphic novel.

So before I even began this particular script I spent a couple years working on my own process (and one additional piece of software I co-wrote with Tray Duncan) in ordert to get exactly this look. That freed me to take my idea of a perfect first date anywhere, even to Mars.

How was the casting? Names like Mark Duplass, Cynthia Watros and Kinky Friedman are perhaps not a-list, but are all solid, recognizable names. How did you get connected with them?

Casting was lot of work. I knew the film would only be as good as the cast, since when we started shooting there would be no sets, no props, just actors in front of a green wall in an old airplane hanger. I began by thinking about actors whose work I had seen who might be interested in something like this and cold called them. Some completely ignored us, but a few intrepid individuals and a few open-minded agents did talk with us. We had some really interesting animation tests to show them, and what I think was a pretty fun script. I got lucky and was able to get some actors I really admire on board:  Mark Duplass, Liza Weil, Cynthia Watros, and Mike Dolan all have had impressive acting careers and they brought fantastic experience and talent to the project. Zoe Simpson was at the time a local actress in Austin, and I had planned on using her in a smaller role. Her performance blew me a way so much that I ultimately promoted her up to the lead. and she did wonderfully.

And that brings us to Kinky Friedman. I wanted a president who was not a reference or commentary to any president we have had. During the primaries around the time we were shooting casting a woman would be seen as a comment on Hillary Clinton, casting an African American would be seen as a commentary on Barack Obama, and so on. I wanted someone whose own persona would overwhelm their comparisons and they would just be their own character. Kinky fit the bill perfectly.

On kinky…of course, with the cowboy persona, there was the obvious connection go W.

Texas is a state with so much (sometimes too much) bravado, we have been known to produce some of the best and worst politicians. I hope kinky came across with more of the fun and exciting type of Texan. the straight forward, no nonsense kind. The cowboy thing is there, but I hoped that Kinky made it feel more like the deep-rooted, been-in-Texas-a-long-time kind of cowboy rather than the more politically motivated, bought-a-ranch-a month-before-the-primaries kind of cowboy. Both the script and his performance both did really well to distance his character from those comparisons.

Can you go into some of the challenges of directing a film shot directly in front of a green screen, and how the actors were able to adapt to it?

It is hard. Really hard. Harder than I thought it would be. There are logistical challenges, like not having props on our sets for the actors to rely on. If they were in a room looking out at Mars, they had to just trust me I was going to add it in, they had to listen to my description and just imagine it all in around me, then they had to react to that make believe and make that believable. To make it even harder we worked with one large wall, so if the camera was moving we had to actually move the floor, and they had to maintain eye lines and performance. Then we had to shoot actors at different times if any part of them overlapped with another character in order for my coloring program to work. Everything had to be elaborately storyboarded, the actors had to give very specific performances, and they had to rely on their own performance — no crutches in the set or props — to make us believe it. I would still say the amazing performances that Zoe, Mark and Paul gave me are what made the film work.
There wasn’t much interaction with the background at all, but it still had to be quite a challenge!

If I did another film this way, I would actually like to break down that separation more. It was logistical necessity that helped shape stylistic choices. I am happy with that, but it would be fun to push the process even further.
Can you talk about Austin as a filmmaking community and how it helped (or hindered, if it did at all) in getting the film made, with the resources available to you?

Austin is an amazingly supportive community, with some great filmmakers in it. I am surrounded by creative minds writing, making music, painting, making movies, and unlike a lot of places, it rarely feels competitive. We really try to help each other make it. We are not in the two epicenters of the biz, so it is harder to get a project financed and made, but I think that adversity does breed some cameraderie. It is a close knit and supportive community, and we do have the support of groups like the Austin Film Society, who gave me a small grant and made my use of the old airport as a studio possible. The support of the university was invaluable duing post production, and the feedback I got from friends in the community really helped shape the film.

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Heartland announces 2010 winners! http://www.thefilmyap.com/2010/10/17/heartland-announces-2010-winners/ http://www.thefilmyap.com/2010/10/17/heartland-announces-2010-winners/#comments Sun, 17 Oct 2010 17:20:08 +0000 http://www.thefilmyap.com/?p=16044 Continue reading ]]>

The Heartland Film Festival celebrated and honored some of the world’s most talented and inspiring independent filmmakers during the 19th annual Heartland Film Festival Awards Ceremony at the Old National Centre last night. Awards and $150,000 in cash prizes were presented to 17 films. Heartland announced The Space Between by Travis and Kristine Fine as the $50,000 Grand Prize Award Winner for Best Dramatic Feature, Freedom Riders by Stanley Earl Nelson, Jr. as the winner of the $25,000 Award for Best Documentary Feature and The Butterfly Circus by Joshua and Rebekah Weigel as the winner of the $10,000 Vision Award for Best Short Film.

The glamorous black-tie event was emceed by Indiana native and EmmyÒ award-winning journalist Catt Sadler (E! Entertainment Television). Special guests Greg Paul (Trustee of The Stewart Foundation and President of Castle Rock Entertainment), Corbin Bernsen (Rust, LA Law, General Hospital) and Don Most (The Yankles, Happy Days) presented awards. Quinton Aaron (The Blind Side) presented this year’s Pioneering Spirit Award to Andrew Kosove and Broderick Johnson, the co-founders and co-CEOs of Alcon Entertainment and producers of The Blind Side, My Dog Skip and The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants – all Truly Moving Picture Award-winning films. The pair was honored with the award for their creative spirit in filmmaking and their contribution to Heartland’s mission to support filmmakers in their quest to create films that bring out the best of the human spirit.

“It’s an honor for Heartland to give Andrew, Broderick and everyone at Alcon Entertainment our highest award for their significant contribution to the mission of Heartland Truly Moving Pictures,” said Jeffrey L. Sparks, president and CEO of Heartland Truly Moving Pictures. “We’re also thrilled to host them in Indianapolis during our Festival which celebrates films like those that Alcon produces: films that entertain and inspire.”

During the program, Heartland honored 17 feature-length and short films. Three student films received Jimmy Stewart Memorial Crystal Heart Awards and 14 films were honored with Crystal Heart Awards. These films were selected from a record 832 independent film submissions for best meeting Heartland’s mission and demonstrating excellence in filmmaking.

The filmmakers honored with Crystal Heart Awards were: Bilal’s Stand – Producer/Director/Writer Sultan Sharrief; The Butterfly Circus – Producer/Director/Writer Joshua Weigel and Producer/Writer Rebekah Weigel; Café – Producer Chris Wyatt; Freedom Riders – Director Stanley Earl Nelson, Jr.; Frog in the Well – Producer/Director/Writer Ken Ochiai; Jamaa – Producer Brian Bird; Lt. Dan Band: For the Common Good – Producer/Director Jonathan Flora and Producer Deborah Flora; Mister Rogers & Me – Producer/Director/Writer Benjamin Wagner and Director Christofer Wagner; The Space Between – Producer/Director/Writer Travis Fine and Producer Kristine Fine; Sun Come Up – Producer/Director Jennifer Redfearn; Thunder Soul – Producer/Director Mark Landsman; Waste Land – Producer Hank Levine; Ways to Live Forever – Director/Writer Gustavo Ron; The Yankles – Producer/Director/Writer David R. Brooks. The filmmakers honored with the Jimmy Stewart Memorial Crystal Heart Award were: God of Love – Producer Stefanie Walmsley; The Road Home – Producer/Director Rahul Gandotra; Waiting for a Train: The Toshio Hirano Story – Producer/Director Oscar Bucher.

Additional special guests at this year’s Heartland Film Festival Awards Ceremony included: Bilal’s Stand – Executive Producer Terri Sarris, Associate Producer Micah Bartelme and star Sabrina Quinn; The Butterfly Circus – Producer Angie Alvarez, Editor Chris Witt and star Bob Yerkes; Freedom Riders – featured individual Genevieve Hughes Houghton; Lt. Dan Band: For the Common Good – featured individual Jason Hale; Mister Rogers & Me – author and featured individual Amy Hollingsworth and Executive Producer David Wagner; Sun Come Up – Producer Tim Metzger; Thunder Soul – featured individual Gaila Mitchell; Ways to Live Forever – star Alex Ettel and composer Cesar Benito and The Yankles – star Don Most.

New this year, Heartland Truly Moving Pictures introduced a competition specifically for high school age filmmakers through its Heartland Institute program. Aspiring high school filmmakers were encouraged to create a 10-minute film that embodied the 2010 theme: HOPE. The Grand Prize Award along with a cash prize of $2,500 was presented to Director John Gordon of Dallas, Texas for his film, Clay.

Heartland awarded a total of $150,000 in cash prizes and winning filmmakers received a Crystal Heart Award designed by Marc Aronstam and Aronstam Fine Jewelers. The $25,000 Award for Best Documentary Feature was underwritten by Indianapolis Volkswagen Dealers, the $10,000 Vision Award for Best Short Film was underwritten by KeyBank, and the Jimmy Stewart Memorial Crystal Heart Awards were underwritten by The Stewart Foundation. To date, Heartland has awarded more than $2.3 million to support filmmakers in their quest to create uplifting and inspiring films.

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The Parking Lot Movie http://www.thefilmyap.com/2010/10/17/the-parking-lot-movie/ http://www.thefilmyap.com/2010/10/17/the-parking-lot-movie/#comments Sun, 17 Oct 2010 12:18:18 +0000 http://www.thefilmyap.com/?p=16037 Continue reading ]]>

An interesting study of, of all things, parking lot attendants, “The Parking Lot” is as unlikely a choice as you’ll EVER have, but I promise you won’t regret it.

Full of guys on strange power trips, and their own distinctive way of looking at the world.

They look at the workers of a parking lot behind a series of bars in Charlottesville, Va., where workers have only a small, ramshackle wooden booth to sit in, collecting money from patrons they largely look down upon (one guy derisively discusses people who park their “$50,000 SUVs that get 9 miles to the gallon”).

You see their hilariously mundane activities, playing with parking cones, deal with rude, condescending customers, and discussing their lives (one guy breaks down the typical day for an attendant, which invariably ends with him locking up and walking through a dark parking lot behind bars and restaurants with a large wad of money in your pocket).

Among the interesting bits of trivia: poets tend to be drawn to the job, and they all identify with Travis Bickle,

There’s one guy who just acts a little too zany, saying a few too many non-sequitir, and some display obsessive behavior (one reveals he dresses nicely because it “f**ks with people’s heads,” that he a compulsion for buying shoes, then pulls out an enormous poster for “The Lizzie McGuire Movie”).

But the ultimate point of thefilm is that, even though these guys are a little…different, they have jobs they stress about just like the rest of us, with hours full of tedium, others that are incredibly frustrating, and others that are completely rewarding.

The attendants are all full of personality. Some are disenchanted toward humanity, some are are bemused at the humanity (or lack of) they see every day, and others just want to get out of there safely.

“Everyone should have a set of keys thrown at them by a fat rich guy with a popped up collar,” one says.

And you see the things you’d expect to see, attendants bickering over 50 cents with customers driving $40,000 vehicles, and chasing down people who run off (and going to extreme lengths to collect their $3). Then there are drunk frat boys breaking the wooden gate, with a police officer who patrols frequently recounting stories of giving the vandals the option of either paying $35 to replace the gate, or be arrested for vandalism.

The things that go on in the minds of the attendants are enough to scare you. Many of them laud the power they have (and on more than one occasion guys discuss how they feel like “all-powerful gods,” and how it’s not their job to mete out punishments for transgressions against civility.

It’s not quite train-wreck cinema, but it’s certainly a telling look at the psychology of bitterness. These look at the world from a detached perspective, watching and not realizing they’re part of it.

Tally “The Parking Lot” under “must see.”

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Among Us http://www.thefilmyap.com/2010/10/16/among-us/ http://www.thefilmyap.com/2010/10/16/among-us/#comments Sat, 16 Oct 2010 18:05:44 +0000 http://www.thefilmyap.com/?p=16008 Continue reading ]]>

Click Here For Showtimes for “Among Us”

Fantasy only seems like fantasy when it’s juxtaposed against our world. Dragons flying could seem standard until you look out your window. Among Us does an excellent job of creating a cold realism and then slowly introduces in the incredible.

This is a Swedish film starring Michael Nvquist (The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo series) and Izabellas Scorupco as Ernst and Cecilia who are suffering. Their child is in the hospital in critical condition. They are both anxious and doubting, but they have no choice but to continue on with their lives.

Then a new man introduces himself into their lives in order to help them. He calls himself Walter (Tchéky Karyo) and Cecilia finds warmth in his presence. Ernst just becomes more frustrated whenever Walter tries to emotionally intervene. Words are never said and accusations are never made, but it’s clear to everyone that Walter is not exactly what he seems.

It seems like I’m giving away too many clues about the movie but writer/director Johan Brisinger does not play the tale out as suspenseful in that regard. Think enough about the title and the mystery is solved. Instead he wisely keeps it focused on the family dynamic and that creates for a better payoff. Nvquist and Scorupco are excellent as the grieving parents who don’t fall back on expected responses.

As with a lot of Scandinavian films, this movie is slow and a bit minimalistic. That approach could leave some audience members cold (pun intended), but in this case it creates a wonderful balance towards the possibly heightened premise. By the end it has this surprisingly emotional reaction. The movie takes risks, but Brisinger pulls them off.

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Black, White and Blues http://www.thefilmyap.com/2010/10/16/black-white-and-blues/ http://www.thefilmyap.com/2010/10/16/black-white-and-blues/#comments Sat, 16 Oct 2010 17:42:20 +0000 http://www.thefilmyap.com/?p=16005 Continue reading ]]>

The fun title Black, White, and Blues refers to its main character, a rather upset guy by the name of Jefferson Bailey (Morgan Simpson). Filled with relationship difficulties and alcohol, he is the prime person to sing the blues. Unfortunately he’s plagued with crippling stage freight. He can’t even physically be on the stage for too long.

After a sour bar brawl with Luke Perry, Bailey hops into the ride of a man named Augy (Michael Clarke Duncan). Augy has been pestering Bailey to go back home so he can receive his potion of a will. Both of them are extremely fascinating characters full of depth and mystery.

While watching this film, it’s difficult to realize that it actually is a road trip movie. Sure, there are a few minor detours and there is a clear path but you get too caught up in the narrative of these characters. The screenplay, written by Simpson and George Richards, handles its characters so well. Tales of redemption are difficult because in order for there to be emotional payoff, the film has to instantly establish the character and provide a believable arc.  Black, White, and Blues does that with ease.

The most memorable part of the movie is its visual style. Its cool colors and impressive lighting design makes each frame rewarding. Mario Van Peebles further proves himself as one of today’s unsung directors. He was great with his feature Baadasssss! and his work on the TV shows Damages and LOST. He has a clear vision but the real skill is combining the visceral elements without ever neglecting the character arcs.

With a story like this, the ending can be everything. When something is alluded to for over an hour, there is some expectations of what is in the box. Its conclusion does end up being surprisingly satisfying in a more unconventional way. The whole movie is clever and will end up staying with you.

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Mars http://www.thefilmyap.com/2010/10/16/mars/ http://www.thefilmyap.com/2010/10/16/mars/#comments Sat, 16 Oct 2010 13:29:22 +0000 http://www.thefilmyap.com/?p=15980 Continue reading ]]>

Click here for showtimes for “Mars”

A quirky animated sci-fi romantic comedy, “Mars” is the sort of treat you only get at film festivals.

Think about it: when was the last time you saw an animated film aimed at adults? Off the top of my head, the last one I recall is 2006’s “A Scanner Darkly,” which, coincidentally (or perhaps not) empl0ys a similar style of animation “drawn” over live-action.

“Mars” is the story of a manned mission to the Red Planet with a three-man crew: Charlie Brownville (Mark Duplass, “Greenberg”), Casey Cook (Zoe Simpson) and Hank Morrison (Paul Gordon). Several years earlier an accident (which, it turns out, was caused by an accumulation of germs on the landing module when a handler sneezed on it) doomed the mission and lost the rover.

Years later The President (Kinky Friedman, yes, THAT Kinky Friedman) decides it’s time to send men to Mars, and it’s on. The trio of astronauts set off for Mars, and end up learning things about each other, and themselves, and a little something about the folks back home as well.

Along the way there is excitement, interesting but airy and light-hearted even in the face of extreme danger, full of whimsy and fun. At least two romances develop,  and this dominates the second half of the film (let’s say this sci fi is light on the science and heavy on the fiction).

The simplistic animation adds a layer of style to the film, giving it a surreal sort of vibe that carries especially well once Mars actually figures into the narrative. It’s a perfect example of the changes in mood and feel that background can provide a film. Without it “Mars” would have been an entirely different film.

Also in the cast is Cynthia Watros (“Lost”), and the acting is fine all around. Friedman’s president is a Texan, but to his credit writer/director Geoff Marslett steers away from the obvious reference he could have made and directed Friedman to be a more amiable, well-meaning lunk.

“Mars” is one long, strange trip worth taking.

MARS – The Movie [HD Trailer] from Geoff Marslett on Vimeo.

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Alex Etel http://www.thefilmyap.com/2010/10/16/alex-etel/ http://www.thefilmyap.com/2010/10/16/alex-etel/#comments Sat, 16 Oct 2010 04:18:44 +0000 http://www.thefilmyap.com/?p=15973 Continue reading ]]>

Alex Etel entered the movie business on the highest of notes: As the star of a movie, at the age of eight, directed by Danny Boyle, who would go on to win Oscar gold for “Slumdog Millionaire.”

“Millions,” about a young boy who finds a bag full of cash, was named of the one the best films of the 2004 by Chicago Sun-Times critic Roger Ebert. He called Etel and his co-star “two of the most appealing child actors I’ve ever seen. Etel is like the young Macaulay Culkin, except that he has no idea he is cute.”

But Etel is not the cute little freckle-faced kid from “Millions” anymore. At age 16, Etel has grown into a handsome young man who still considers himself a regular British lad from Manchester who goes to school, has a steady girlfriend and enjoys action movies.

His favorite actor is Will Smith, in part because of the way he turns movie-making into a family experience, and he names “The Matrix,” “The Shawshank Redemption” and “Toy Story” among his most beloved films.

His newest role is as Felix, a teen dying of cancer in “Ways to Live Forever,” a dramatic feature and Crystal Heart Award-winning film playing at the 2010 Heartland Film Festival. It was a departure for Etel, who spends his entire screen time either in a wheelchair or crutches — not to mention completely bald.

“I’m not going to lie — it wasn’t nice,” he said of having his head shaved. “I live in Manchester, which is extremely cold, and it was winter as well. So I was walking around with a freezing head for about three months.

“When I first went down to the set they shaved it in patches … and then it went down to completely zero.

“It was funny to see the looks I got when I was walking around, whether people thought I was a thug or I was actually ill.”

He auditioned for the part with director Gustavo Ron and co-star Robbie Kay, and it went so well he walked out thinking, “Hmmm, I think I’ve got that.” But then a few weeks went by without any calls, leading to some disappointment.

Eventually, though, he got the part. The interaction between Etel and Kay as two boys sharing the same, slow death is the film’s high point. Kay’s character turns to humor to help him deal, while Felix is sly and sardonic. Etel even gets a wordless but powerful send-off in the hospital.

As for being immobilized in a wheelchair much of the time, he jokingly agrees that at least it meant he didn’t have as many marks to hit. “I was static most of the time. It was different, and I like a challenge.”

Etel likes changing things up so much that he says he’d love to tackle a thriller or action flick sometime in the future.

“I know that sounds completely different, but I think it would make me grow as an actor. I want to learn instead of carrying on with the same things.”

He’s certainly built an impressive resume of credits during his young life — and worked with some major names of the British screen, including Judi Dench, Maggie Smith, Ben Chaplin, Imelda Staunton and Timothy Spall.

He admits his memory is fuzzy from working on “Millions” since he was so young at the time, but distinctly remembers a family-type atmosphere that Boyle fostered on the set. The director encouraged his young actors to be playful, but made sure they knew when to knuckle down.

“(‘Millions’) was good, but I don’t think I really properly realized how good it was at the time because I was only 8 years old. It was like it was just going on around  me instead of me actually being in it.

“But now I look back on it and I can’t believe my first role, my first acting thing was with an Oscar-winning director now. He picked me out. When I look back on it I think, ‘Wow, I can’t believe that’s how it began.'”

Etel enjoys a close group of friends who remain unimpressed by his film career.

“I’ve grown up with mostly the same friends, even before I was filming. They’ve been on the journey with me. They think (sarcastically), ‘Oh yeah, you’ve got loads of money and you’re flying all over the world.’ I don’t know — they’re still my friends. They don’t seem bothered by it. I don’t want to bring my private life into acting because when I go home that’s me, home.”

He enjoys football (what we yanks call soccer), playing the guitar and music. He plans to study sound engineering in college.

One thing he isn’t participating in is any drama classes at his school. He says he’s “not a big stage lover,” while acknowledging maybe that will change as he gets older.

Etel does admit he was on the receiving end of some arm-twisting about employing his acting talent at school. When he talks about it, though, there isn’t a hint of ego in his bright eyes.

“(The teachers) were literally begging for me, and my mum was nearly kicking me. I know it sounds bad, but I do what I want to do. That’s how I like to live. I don’t want to live on someone else’s word.”

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Rahul Gandotra, “The Road Home” http://www.thefilmyap.com/2010/10/15/rahul-gandotra-the-road-home/ http://www.thefilmyap.com/2010/10/15/rahul-gandotra-the-road-home/#comments Fri, 15 Oct 2010 16:38:12 +0000 http://www.thefilmyap.com/?p=15931 Continue reading ]]>

Filmmaker Rahul Gandrotra’s semi-autobiographical short film “The Road Home,” about a young boy native to England, but tied by blood to India, is playing at the Heartland Film Festival. In this interview Gandotra discusses the genesis of his story, making short films, and converting them to feature-length productions.

Click here for showtimes for “The Road Home.”

Where did the idea come for this film?

The story is somewhat autobiographical; I tried to convey the feelings and issues I went through when I first went India to this boarding school. I was born and raised in England and so I felt British in my bones.  But when I was sent to this boarding school, it was my first significant period of time in India. One could say that I was an immigrant to this country even though I didn’t look like it.

And because I looked Indian, everyone in India expected me to know the language, to know the food, to know the customs.  There was a constant list of expectations and judgements made about me primarily because of my skin color or racial features.  Of course, this is very understandable, but when they are kept being made after I would try to explain to them that I was British, I was made fun of or teased quite harshly. So the story comes from real life experience.

You’re making this short into a feature, right? Can you talk about making a short into a feature, and how you got to that point?

My short film is essentially a road movie.  Typically these type of films need time in which to build the story and the characters.  One shouldn’t normally do a road movie in the short film format, as the length makes it very difficult to allow for a transformation of the main character.  This made the short very difficult to write, because I had to find a way of having the character learn something by the end of the film that felt believable and realistic for me.

This was sheer torture to do and led to writing nine drafts of the script before shooting the film.  So probably I would say that the structure and themes of the film lend itself easier to a feature film length.  Writing the longer version, which is now been completed, has proved much easier as we have a lot more space in which to explore the characters and allow for a gradual transformation.

However, I couldn’t just take the story in the short and expand it literally into a feature. A boy going around in a taxi for ninety minutes would make for a boring film indeed. So we’ve had to weave in different elements to make the feature work.  Instead of one kid running away, for example, there is now two.  There is also a whole subplot that involves someone chasing after them, which ties into the main story.

What do shorts have to offer that feature films perhaps cannot?

You can experiment with film grammar and styles of filmmaking that you can’t necessarily do with features, where the feature film generally dictates a more scene-by-scene storytelling.

Sometimes these experiments can lead to wonderful results, sometimes they don’t.  Some examples of shorts that could never be done for a whole feature are “Copy Shop”, “Terry Tate Office Linebacker”, “Manon on the Asphalt”, “Cashback”, and “Logorama” (the latter three you can download and view on iTunes to get a sense of what I mean by experiments that couldn’t be done in a feature).

 

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