New Hope Film Fest: Director’s Cut

This past weekend, filmhash made an appearance at the New Hope Film Festival (for those readers not familiar with PA, New Hope is a charming little town bordering the Delaware river in the greater Philadelphia area). The festival is currently underway this week and boasts a wide assortment of domestic and international films, including Director’s Cut, a wonderful film about the trials, tribulations, and triumphs of amateur filmmaking.

Writer/Director Elana Mugdan (center) with some of the cast of Director's Cut.

The film is centered around Cassie, a young college “dropout,” determined to find her place in the world by producing and directing the next great blockbuster. The blockbuster in question is of the B variety, and consists of a vampire pirate queen, an assortment of alien puppets, and a plastic sword wielding, grease smudged hero. The script (one of many) is penned by her very earnest and hilariously compulsive friend Eugene, who insists on micromanaging every aspect of the filmmaking process to ensure the integrity of his work. The rest of Cassie’s rag-tag crew includes best friend, confidant, and reluctant gaffer Gary, elitist photographer Kal, and Arielle, Cassie’s bright-eyed and bushy-tailed AD.

Director’s Cut is written and directed by Elana Mugdan, CEO and founder of Shivnath Productions. Although not a wholly autobiographical account of her journey as a filmmaker, Mugdan certainly tells a personal story about the inner workings of filmmaking, and the internal struggles that every filmmaker faces both in front of, and most especially, behind the camera. As a wannabe filmmaker myself, I connected with Cassie’s determination to bring her project to fruition while navigating a set mired in ego struggles, inexperienced colleagues, financial strain, and doubt. However, Mugdan’s ability to shed a comedic light on the “darkside” of filmmaking enables the audience to chuckle while sympathizing with Cassie’s sometimes desperate situations.

The supporting performances of Director’s Cut are excellent, but the highly charismatic lead performance from Hallie York as Cassie is something to be remembered. I also would like to stress the quality of the screenplay by Mugdan, which possesses a seemingly effortless comedic approach to the dialogue that was real, relatable, and never over the top. Director’s Cut is a film about process, the process of filmmaking, and the even more poignant process of becoming your own person. Both are difficult journeys that can yield promising results, but the film never stresses the final product as the end all be all. Above anything else, it is the process that defines Cassie, and the experience that gets her to the next chapter.

To learn more about Director’s Cut and other projects by Shivnath Productions, click here, or visit http://www.wix.com/shivnathproductions/shivnathproductions.

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Cannes-Cannes: Thoughts on Etiquette

For reasons I’m not fully divulging, etiquette has been on my mind a lot lately, especially in the way of film. Cannes, one of the biggest film festivals of the year, apparently has it’s own rules on what kind of behavior is acceptable. I’ve always wanted to go to a major film festival, but the more I read about it, the more my desire to make that festival Cannes is tempered.

First, the booing. I don’t mind audience reaction to a film, in fact, it’s one of the things I love about seeing a movie in theaters. The resounding laughter, those rare moments of spontaneous reaction that we so rarely get en masse. For example, I will always remember the crowd’s reaction to The Joker’s “magic trick” in The Dark Knight, the audible sobs during the climax of Toy Story 3, and the joyful applause at Yoda’s lightsaber usage in Attack of the Clones. I usually don’t applaud at the end of films, except when I know the people who worked on the film are present. Personally it just feels like a hollow gesture. But I have always applauded the filmmakers when they were present, one to be polite, and two to show my appreciation. Making movies isn’t easy, and it’s an easy and socially acceptable way to say a nice “thank you.”

However, apparently the refined European audience of Cannes are free to boo whenever they please. Perhaps the most anticipated film debuting at Cannes this year was Terrence Malick’s Tree of Life, and there were scattered audience members who booed the film. Now they are scattered, and it would hardly be worth noting except that this is a usual feature at Cannes. Malick is the antithesis of a prolific filmmaker, as he has only directed five films in his four decade-long career, and is this any way to reward his efforts, as well as the actors and crew that worked on the film? I think not. Every film is a challenge to make, and if you don’t like it, that’s no way to treat the hardworking people who made it.

And it’s not just the people attending the films that are guilty of rude behavior, the film journalists have also risen to the occasion with their bizarre and pandering questions. Salon’s Drew Grant has a write-up of the press conference for Kung Fu Panda 2, which included a question for Angeline Jolie about the death of Osama bin Laden. 1. Who cares what she thinks? 2. Osama is not in Kung Fu Panda 2 (as far as I am aware, anyway). They also asked Jack Black if he thinks real pandas have existential crises! I believe I speak for everyone when I say, What? (link: http://www.salon.com/entertainment/movies/feature/2011/05/13/angelina_cannes_kung_fu_panda)

Anyway, I promise if I ever become some kind of professional (or an amateur with access), I will never ask questions this dumb at a press conference. And if I do go to Cannes, I won’t boo. Even if I hate a three hour film about a panda with an existential crisis.

Reading Film Fest Short Film Showcase

One of the joys I have discovered this past year has been short film screenings. What I love about going to them is not only being able to see a bunch of films all at once, but also that I usually know nothing about the films being screened (a rarity for someone obsessed with film news). Last weekend, I went to my third, at the Reading Film Festival. Like our recent trip to the Bucks Fever Film Fest, all of the films screened had their charm. And for $7 a pop for tickets, short film festivals prove to be a cheap and fun form of weekend entertainment.

The Reading festival was similar in its setup as the Bucks festival. There was a category for adult, college and high school student films. Here are profiles of some of my favorites.

The first is God of Love, by Luke Matheny, which won the top prize for the adult category. It is a sweet romantic comedy about a lounge singer and dart throwing prodigy who receives a mysterious package of darts that induce the feelings of love. The use of black and white film was also an inspired choice that added volumes to an already solid story. I absolutely loved this film, and it even won a 2010 Student Academy Award. Watch a clip here (the player doesn’t allow for embedding). And here is the filmmaker’s website.

Billed as “a musical where everyone dies,” Sudden Death! reminds me of a lighthearted black comedy in a Joss Whedon-esque vein. This was an absolute joy from start to finish, and had a great mix of humor, music, and ideas. The soundtrack itself is reason enough to see this film. The filmmaker, Adam Hall, is currently in the process of looking for funding to turn the film into a full-length feature; so if you have some extra change, throw it his way! (The film’s website) Check out the trailer here:

Ping, the only animated film in the bunch (The Bucks County fest had many more animated films from students, so I was surprised by the lack here) was a very well done stop motion film by a college student from Penn State. It tells of two robots jailed by some kind of evil robot empire. The animation is very well done, but what makes the film impressive is how much I came to care about the robots characters in 10 minutes. Imagine if Wall-E starred in The Great Escape. (Ping website) Watch here:

Thunderbolt and The Mermaid (El Rayo Y La Sirena) is a great Spanish film about a man who finds his true life’s calling after a chance encounter with a mermaid. A little surreal and surprisingly funny, although I couldn’t find a subtitled version of the trailer. Watch the Spanish language one here.

There are just four of the nine films that were screened, and each was interesting and worth watching. Again, we here at Filmhash can’t stress enough the importance of supporting local film festivals-make it a mission to look up festivals in your area!

Jill-Okay, Ryan wrote this, but I have something very cool and exciting to add-Ryan and I attended a screenwriters workshop in the morning before the film screenings. I didn’t realize at first when I sat down in the theatre that I was sitting next to none other than Michael Constantine (the adorable father in My Big Fat Greek Wedding and Reading, PA resident). I know, I’m a huge dork, but it really made me happy :-). It’s always the little things with me.

Film Fest Fever: A Look Back at the Bucks County Film Festival

Hello all, I have a short post for today but be sure to catch us next week when we discuss still more commentary from The Social Network (I know, I know, it’s never going to get old, so get used to it!), I will finally post my first documentary review, and we’ll hopefully have a review of this weekend’s release of Red. So, yeah, exciting stuff to come. In the meantime, I want to discuss my first film fest experience last Sunday night. Yes, it took me a whole week to impart these comments to you.

So last week, Ryan and I went to the tenth annual Bucks County Film Fest at the historic County Theater in Doylestown, PA. The fest celebrates the short films of not only “seasoned” filmmakers who are out of school, but also those still in college and even high school. It was an eclectic mix of talent, and on the whole, a lot of fun. I have only great things to say about the high school students who showed off their tremendous skills at such a young age. I’m pretty sure I didn’t even know how to work a camera, let alone write, direct, and produce my own film short at that age (I probably still couldn’t). The topics from the high school category winners included two boys fighting for their lives to retrieve a baseball from someone’s backyard (very a la The Sandlot meets Halo, but extremely entertaining nonetheless), and a playground outcast makes a friend and has a spectacular day about town…with a ballon (Again, very The Red Ballon, but these kids have the rest of their lives to develop their personal creativity. It helps when you are influenced by classic films of childhood).

The college level film shorts were nothing short (haha) of inspired. A majority of them were animated films by The University of the Arts students in Philadelphia. My favorite film of the evening, titled The Kid and the Fish, by Jessica Barnett, came from this group.

The most well-received film of the evening, and the winner of the Audience Favorite award, was by Tisch School student Alex Smolowe titled, Borderland. The film depicts two soldiers struggling to survive in the wilderness of northern Italy during WWII. I almost picked this as my favorite of the evening-the production values were superb, as was the story. And as most people know, I love me a good WWII drama.

The films representing those “emerging” filmmakers (filmmakers no longer in school), were equally impressive. The one worth mentioning, perhaps, because it is part of a broader non-profit awareness effort, is Marsha Trainer’s Ana’s Playground. The film depicts a group of children playing soccer in the streets of a nameless war-torn country, where they are soon in a fight for their lives to retrieve their missing soccer ball. Yup, it goes over a fence. Can’t these kids hold on to their toys? And why is there always a mean scary man with a gun on the other side of the fence? Alas, The Sandlot trope continues. All joking aside, Ana’s Playground is a powerful short film about the hardships of children growing up in war zones around the world, and the decisions they must make everyday. If not for the upsetting subject matter, I’m sure this film would have picked up the Audience prize. Readers can view the film’s website here, for more information on the film, and the important cause it supports. You can also view the film’s trailer here.

All in all, a fantastic evening out! I encourage everyone to support their local filmmakers by attending regional film festivals-they’re cheap, fun, and thought-provoking!

Click here for a full list of winners.