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Interview: Megan Griffiths takes ‘The Night Stalker’ to Lifetime

Bellamy Young in ‘The Night Stalker’

The Night Stalker, the fourth feature by Seattle-based filmmaker Megan Griffiths, is skipping theaters almost entirely to premiere on the Lifetime Network and stream on Lifetime Movies, their online subscription service.

That wasn’t always the plan. The film was made as an independent feature with the intention of a theatrical release. “You like the idea of having it on a large screen,” says Griffiths, a Seattle-based filmmaker who grew up in Southern California during the reign of terror of Richard Ramirez. But increasingly audiences are turning to cable, and VOD and streaming services, for their new movies. Many independent films arrive on VOD day-and-date with their theatrical debut.

The Night Stalker made its world debut at the Seattle International Film Festival on June 4 and began a limited theatrical run in Southern California theaters a week later, but for the rest of the country it debuts at 9pm on Sunday, June 12 on the Lifetime Channel and then becomes the newest addition to Lifetime Movies.

Griffiths discusses the trade-off, including the benefits, of releasing her new film to Lifetime, a channel with a great track record for supporting women filmmakers, in the second part of my interview with Megan Griffiths (part one is here).

Sean Axmaker: Tell me about the brief theatrical release for The Night Stalker. Is it only on Southern California?

Megan Griffiths: Yes. It’s opening in Orange County, which is an area where Ramirez had a lot of impact, and there’s a legacy to that there where a lot of people are familiar with him and interested in his story and we figured it made sense to bring the story back there for this limited theatrical release. We always wanted to get some sort of theatrical run but it is getting trickier these days.

SA: You shot this as an independent feature and I assume you always had your eye on a theatrical release.

MG: It’s funny because I always say that there isn’t anybody who got into film to have their movies watched on a phone or an iPad. You like the idea of having it on a large screen where it’s so immersive and you’re in the dark and no one’s on their phones or checking their E-mails during the movie. That’s really the way you want people to watch, where they’re focused and into it, and as soon as you leave the theater all that goes out the window and people watch in this half-registered way. Ideal world scenario is that everybody is riveted, you have their undivided attention, and we’re naturally moving away from that, which is kind of sad. I’ve been going to a lot of screenings at SIFF and marveling at how full every screening has been and how much there is still an audience that at least comes out once a year to fill theaters and watch movies. It doesn’t happen very often. I’ve had those experiences at festivals but I’ve almost never had the experience of a full theater even on an opening weekend for a movie just because of the nature of all the different competition for people’s attention.

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Megan Griffiths: A fascination with ‘The Night Stalker’

Lou Diamond Phillips is Richard Ramirez in ‘The Night Stalker’

Megan Griffiths debuts her fourth feature, The Night Stalker, at the Seattle International film Festival on Saturday, June 4. It’s the story of Richard Ramirez, who was branded The Night Stalker during his 14 month reign of terror in Los Angeles and San Francisco in 1984 and 1985, but it’s just as much about how his actions reverberated through the culture of Southern California.

“Everyone who I’ve encountered who lived in California at all in the eighties have these visceral memories of that summer,” recalls Griffiths. “I lived in Riverside and he never came to Riverside but it felt like he could.” The story made national headlines but he the effect on those living in Southern California was immediate and powerful “I didn’t remember seeing that explored and I was interested in that and wanted to explore it.”

Lou Diamond Phillips plays Ramirez at age 53, after spending 23 years on death row, and he looks eerily like the real-life Ramirez, and Bellamy Young (Scandal) is a lawyer named Kit, a fictional character created for the film who interviews Ramirez in the hopes of getting a confession to murder he was never prosecuted for. Ramirez demands a trade, that she spill her own secrets, and the film becomes as much if not more about her. Chelle Sherrill plays the young Kit and Benjamin Barrett is the 26-year-old Richard Ramirez.

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Lost—and Found—Ark: ‘Raiders’ Revisited

Raiders! The Story of the Greatest Fan Film Ever Made

Their story is now legend. In 1982, twelve-year-old friends Chris Strompolos, Eric Zala, and Jayson Lamb started shooting a shot-for-shot remake of Raiders of the Lost Ark on a borrowed VHS camcorder in their small Mississippi town. Chris played Indiana Jones, Eric directed and played Belloq, and Jayson manned the camera, edited the footage, and brainstormed the special effects. They spent every summer vacation for seven years completing the film (every scene except one: the fight around the airplane with spinning propellers), by which time they had fallen out and weren’t even speaking to one another. Completed in 1989, it was practically forgotten until VHS copies started making their way to film buffs and movie collectors. Filmmaker Eli Roth brought a copy for an unannounced screening at the 2002 Butt-Numb-a-Thon and the underground legend exploded. In the years since, Chris and Eric traveled around the country for special screenings of their fan film.

Raiders! The Story of the Greatest Fan Film Ever Made, directed by Jeremy Coon and Tim Skousen and inspired by the book by Alan Eisenstock, will be the closest most people will get to seeing that astounding piece of DIY spectacle—the film was never meant to be seen outside of the friends who made it and what twelve-year-old thinks to get a waiver from the creators of the original film? It features clips from the film and outtakes from the production that show not only the spirit of the endeavor but the potentially life-threatening situations the boys put themselves through to do the shoot, as well as new interviews with the Chris, Eric, Jayson, their parents (God bless the mothers of these kids, who believed in their dreams, even if they worried about their methods), and other members of the cast and crew. And it’s built around the crazy impulse to finish the film decades later. Chris and Eric raised money in a Kickstarter campaign to get that last scene. It turned out to be just as dangerous an undertaking as the most reckless things they did as kids.

Continue reading at Keyframe

Jeppe Rønde’s Trueness to Life, and Death


Bridgend is a horror film, but not in the traditional sense. The horror is that the events of Bridgend, a rural county in South Wales, occurred in real life and continue to do so. Between January 2007 and February 2012, at least seventy-nine suicides were reported in this small county, most of them teenagers, most of them by hanging. They left no suicide notes and, though the media have suggested some kind of suicide pact or death cult, to this day there is no explanation.

Danish filmmaker Jeppe Rønde spent six years traveling back and forth from his home in Denmark to Bridgend, getting to know the people and letting them get to know him. The locals had a deep distrust of outsiders because of years of tabloid reporters exploiting their tragedy, but they opened up to Rønde. Their stories and experiences became the core of his script—though he was a documentary filmmaker by profession and practice, he chose to channel their stories into a dramatic feature—and they even allowed him to shoot the film on location in Bridgend. Many of the kids he got to know appear in small roles in the film.

“When you read that seventy-nine hung themselves in the end of the film, that’s the only official number I could use. The problem is it’s a lot higher,” he explained. “The kids tell me every time one dies and we hear about it in the news, there were two or three that were kept out of the public eye. And on top comes all the people that tried to do it but failed. Sometimes it was several a day, over months, in such a small community.”

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Remembering Adrienne Shelly (1966-2006)

Adrienne Shelly in ‘Trust’

Actress, playwright, stage director and filmmaker Adrienne Shelly made a big splash in the small pond of eighties American indie cinema as the offbeat lead in The Unbelievable Truth (1989), which introduced both Shelly and filmmaker Hal Hartley to audiences. Their sensibilities were a perfect match and they reteamed for Trust (1990), but while their careers parted after this, they remained remarkably parallel. Like Hartley, she purposely avoided the Hollywood game. Remaining on the East Coast, the diminutive, red-headed actress largely committed herself to idiosyncratic indie films (Hold Me, Thrill Me, Kiss Me, 1992, Sleep With Me, 1994) with occasional guest-starring gigs in East Coast-based TV shows like Homicide and Law and Order. She had come from the stage and continued writing, directing and performing in the independent theater scene in New York, and she made the leap to filmmaker with her feature directorial debut, Sudden Manhattan (1996), a film very much in the brainy, talking, wryly absurd vein of Hartley, but with a different perspective.

Shelly was poised to finally break into mainstream filmmaking on her own terms with her third feature film, Waitress (2007), when she was murdered in November 2006, the victim of a senseless homicide. The film, starring Keri Russell and Nathan Fillion and featuring Shelly in a sweet supporting role, debuted at Sundance months later to great reviews and landed a major distribution deal.

In 2000 I had the honor and pleasure of interviewing her when she accompanied I’ll Take You There, her sophomore feature as a director, to the Seattle International Film Festival. It was her third appearance at the festival she called her favorite (at least she said so to me: “I just find it to be so friendly and really just about the filmmaking”) and she gave me nearly an hour of her time, talking about the features and short films she directed, her beginnings with Hal Hartley, and her work on the New York stage. She laughed easily and often while remembering details and describing events from the shoot, and seemed genuinely appreciative that someone had invested so much into her films. “Sometimes you write something and you know that there is another meaning behind it and you wonder if anyone is going to get it, is going to see it,” she said near the end of our interview. “It’s nice that you picked up on all this.”

Sean Axmaker: How were you cast in Hal Hartley’s films? You had never been in a film before The Unbelievable Truth.

Adrienne Shelly: It was a freak thing. I sent my head shot to his office. There was an ad in the newspaper called Backstage, this was two months before he started casting for The Unbelievable Truth, and the office that he was using at the time was being shared by several different companies and one of them, I guess they were making music videos, and I had sent my head shot in. It was a fluke. When I first started, I used to send my head shot around. And someone held up my picture and said, ‘Why not audition her?’ They actually put another ad in Backstage that I didn’t see, specifically for the movie, and I never would have sent my head shot in for that because it said, ‘We need a model type,’ and I never thought of myself as a model type. I’m so small and, you know, not a model type. So I never would have gotten the part unless I had sent in my head shot in for this other thing, for this music video.

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Interview: Robert Eggers on ‘The Witch’

‘The Witch’

“In the early modern period,” begins Robert Eggers, writer and director of the deeply unsettling The Witch, “the real world and the fairy tale world were the same thing.” It’s an appropriately Once Upon a Time preamble for discussing the film, in which a devouter-than-thou family of New England Puritans venture past the outskirts of civilization, only to attract the attention of a primal—and terrifyingly implacable—force. “These days, the evil witch is more of a Halloween decoration,” Eggers says, “so we have to go back to the 17th century and be in that mindset to believe again. In that time, the idea of an evil witch was a given, like, a tree is a tree, a rock is a rock.”

Continue reading at The Portland Mercury

Resurrecting ‘Sherlock Holmes’: An interview with Rob Byrne

“I’ve always been, since my early, early days, a silent film fanatic, or aficionado, or whatever you call it.”

After a successful career in the tech world, lifelong silent movie fan and President of the San Francisco Silent Film Festival Rob Byrne decided what he really wanted to do with his life: restore movies. So in 2006, at a point when, in his own words, “I could go after and do what I wanted to do,” he moved to Amsterdam for two years to attend the master’s program in film preservation at the University of Amsterdam. After internships at several different archives, he received an award from the Netherlands Filmmuseum (now the EYE Film Institute) and Haghefilm to restore the 1923 Pola Negri film The Spanish Dancer. He’s now back in San Francisco and building a legacy as an independent film restorer and preservationist. His restorations of the Douglas Fairbanks features The Half-Breed (1916) and The Good Bad Man (1916), the three-reel When the Earth Trembled (1913) and the San Francisco-shot The Last Edition (1925) all premiered at SFSFF over the past few years.

William Gillette and his team in the 1916 ‘Sherlock Holmes’

Byrne’s most recent project is one of the most important restorations of the last decade: the long-assumed-lost 1916 Sherlock Holmes starring William Gillette, the definitive Sherlock Holmes of the stage.

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Keith Baxter: On Acting in Orson Welles’ ‘Chimes at Midnight’

Keith Baxter was a struggling young Welsh actor when Orson Welles tapped him to play Prince Hal in the 1960 stage production of Chimes at Midnight in Ireland. Like Welles’ earlier Five Kings, this massive production brought together elements of numerous Shakespeare plays, in particular Henry IV Part I and Henry IV Part II, to chronicle the education of a king, and like the earlier production is was commercial failure. But Welles was still determined to make his production. As Baxter related in a 1988 interview, “on the last night, coming back to England, he [Welles] said to me on the ship, ‘This is only a rehearsal for the movie, Keith, and I’ll never make it unless you play Hal in that, too.’” Welles was true to his word and Baxter, in his first major screen role, starred opposite Welles in a cast that included John Gielgud, Jeanne Moreau and Margaret Rutherford.

Keith Baxter and Orson Welles in Welles’ ‘Chimes at Midnight’

Mr. Baxter, now eighty-two years old and a grand old man of British and American theater, was in New York City to introduce the American debut of the new restoration if Chimes at Midnight on Friday, January 8. Before the event, he granted a few interviews. “Ask me whatever you want to ask,” he said with a bright enthusiasm as our phone conversation began.

Sean Axmaker: You starred as Prince Hal in the 1960 stage production of Chimes at Midnight with Orson Welles in Ireland. You were the only member of that production (besides Welles) to appear in the film. Was there any change in the way that you played Hal and in the relationship between Hal and Welles’ Falstaff between the stage production and the film a few years later?

Keith Baxter: Well not really, you know. The thing is that Welles discovered me when I was out of work, washing dishes, so it was a wonderful opportunity to play on the stage with him. And, how can I explain? He really loved me and I really loved him. I don’t mean in any sexual sense. I mean because he’d given me a whole opportunity to play a wonderful part with a great actor instead of washing dishes and being out of work. So of course I felt a tremendous debt towards him. And he was wonderful to act with. He didn’t direct the play in Dublin, it was directed by an old friend of his who had discovered him when he was a teenager in Ireland [ed. note: Hilton Edwards]. Because when we started rehearsing Welles wasn’t there for two weeks, he was in Paris working on his film of The Trial, so we rehearsed without him and then he arrived. And of course we were all mightily… not in awe of him, well yes, in awe of him, whatever, and it was quite clear that he liked acting with me and I was a source of light.

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Lynn Shelton Goes Way Back

Fandor co-founder Jonathan Marlow and director Lynn Shelton are in attendance at Northwest Film Forum’s Local Sightings Film Festival on Saturday, September 26 to present a 35mm screenings of Shelton’s debut feature, We Go Way Back, the same day it makes its streaming debut on Fandor. It’s a preview of the tenth anniversary theatrical release that’ll occur early in 2016, presented by Fandor and Factory 25. – Ed.

‘We Go Way Back’

Lynn Shelton made her debut feature, We Go Way Back, after a decade of honing her skills. With a master’s degree in photography and years of experience as a stage actress, the Seattle-based artist taught herself filmmaking by making experimental films and documentaries and editing the features of other local filmmakers. She credits Claire Denis with inspiring her, at the age of thirty-seven, to have the faith to follow her muse and make a feature film. With financing from a Seattle non-profit production company, she made We Go Way Back on a tiny budget and with a cast and crew of professionals from her Seattle home. It won the Jury Prize at Slamdance in 2006 and launched a career that, to date, has remained defiantly independent. Her budgets have since gotten bigger and her casts more famous (Emily Blunt and Rosemary DeWitt in Your Sister’s Sister, Keira Knightley and Chloë Grace Moretz in Laggies) yet she has remained not only independent but local, shooting in Seattle with area crews. At least for her features. Between movies she, like many fellow indie filmmakers, directs episodes of TV shows, from Mad Men to The Mindy Project andFresh Off the Boat.

We Go Way Back is the story of a young actress in her twenties (Amber Hubert) who is in a kind of emotional stupor as she struggles to make her way as a professional actress at the expense of her own sense of self. But Shelton tosses in a high concept twist: her thirteen-year-old self, present in letters full of confidence and creativity and ambition that she wrote to her future self, arrives in the flesh. What could be a Lynch-ian bend in time and space and identity, however, is played with naturalistic calm. She’s not here to judge, only to heal and center her emotionally fractured older self.

I first interviewed Shelton in 2008, soon after her second feature, My Effortless Brilliance, premiered at SXSW. I had just seen We Go Way Back and was excited to discuss it with her. We’ve talked many times since but this is the only time we really delved into her first film.

Sean Axmaker: You came out of theater, and you had edited some features before you directed We Go Way Back, including Hedda Gabler. In We Go Way Back, the main character, Kate (Amber Hubert), is cast in the lead of ‘Hedda Gabler’ and it’s a production that is going right off the rails. Is there anything autobiographical in that, or is this just your nightmare of the worst possible theater experience that you could think of?

Lynn Shelton: [Laughs.] The director is an amalgamation of many acting teachers and directors that I’ve encountered. I started acting when I was about eleven and kept on acting through my twenties and it was like an addiction. I was always in a show, so I encountered lots and lots of different personalities through the years. None of them were quite as misguided as poor Bob’s character but there is also some practicality to it. I needed a role in western classic theater that might be recognizable to a certain set so that it would be a big deal—because this is her first big role, so she needs to be offered this great part, and I needed to write the script in five weeks and I knew that play really, really well. I knew the lines by heart, so it was expedient. But there are a lot of interesting challenges to playing Hedda anyway. This is obviously very condensed and exaggerated but the kernel of the story is totally autobiographical.

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Eskil Vogt: Going ‘Blind’

Ellen Dorrit Petersen

Before his feature directorial debut, Blind, premiered at Sundance in January 2014, where it won the screenwriting award for World Cinema, Eskil Vogt was known for his collaborations with filmmaker Joachim Trier. They co-wrote Reprise (2006), Oslo, August 31st (2011) and Louder Than Bombs (2015), which makes its North American debut at the Toronto International Film Festival this year. Like Vogt’s early collaborations with Trier, Blind is a film that plays with conventions and expectations and perspectives. It’s the story of Ingrid (Ellen Dorrit Petersen), a woman who has recently become blind, adjusting to her new life. It’s a film that demands close attention, and rewards it with playful storytelling and inventive associations that reverberate between the real and the imagined. The 2014 Village Voice Film Poll voted Blind the Best Undistributed Film.

With Blind finally receiving its well-deserved American release, I spoke with Vogt, who lives in Oslo, Norway, about his debut feature—nearly two years after its world-premiere screening. “I’m looking forward to making something new,” he remarked with a laugh when I asked if he was tired of talking about the film after all this time. “But at the same time I’m very happy that people still want to discuss it. Some films just die after screening in their home country, but this one just keeps on going.”

Editor’s note: Blind opens simultaneously in New York at IFC and online exclusively on Fandor. The following interview may contain what some consider spoilers.

Sean Axmaker: I enjoyed the way the story unfolded and how I had to reorient myself to the film every five or ten minutes as perspectives or identities changed.

Eskil Vogt: I’d like that to be like a game for the spectator. It’s not that you hide everything and at the end of the movie you see, ‘Oh it was just a dream,’ or ‘It’s just inside a crazy person’s head,’ and you’re disappointed because that’s not the rules of the game. In my movie I would like a constant shift in perspective that keeps telling people that you should pay attention, that there’s something else going on, and trying to get people involved in that. They could have fun, but it can be sort of a ride. That was my aim: constant shifts in perspective and some rug-pulling as well, but giving people a chance to follow it.

Continue reading at Keyframe

SFSFF 2015: Kevin Brownlow – Stories from the Trenches of Film Restoration

I credit Kevin Brownlow for my passion for silent movies. I studied silent cinema in college film classes in the 1980s, viewed from 16mm classroom prints. I admired the era but, apart from Chaplin and Keaton and a few choice dramas, I never really embraced it as a unique form of storytelling. Then I saw Brownlow’s 1983 documentary The Unknown Chaplin and read his invaluable book “The Parade’s Gone By.” They helped me appreciate the beauty and expressiveness of silent storytelling.

‘Ben-Hur: A Tale of the Christ’

Since then I’ve seen numerous silent film that Brownlow helped restore through Photoplay Productions (which helped me really see and appreciate the films on their own terms), watched his documentaries on Buster Keaton: A Hard Act to Follow, Harold Lloyd: The Third Genius, D.W. Griffith: The Father of Film and his epic thirteen-part documentary series Hollywood: A Celebration of American Silent Film (among others), read his books on silent film history, and had the good fortune to see his restoration of Abel Gance‘s Napoleon three times (two of them thanks to the San Francisco Silent Film Festival, which brought the film to Oakland in 2012 for its only American screenings to date).

He has been honored by the New York Film Critics Circle, the Los Angeles Film Critics Association, the American Society of Cinematographers and the San Francisco Silent Film Festival, which gave him the 2010 Silent Film Festival award for his lifelong commitment to silent film preservation and history. And in 2010 he received the Academy Honorary Award, the first film preservationist to be so honored by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.

The 20th San Francisco Silent Film Festival closes with Brownlow’s restoration of the original Ben-Hur (1925) and he will appear onstage in conversation with 2015 Silent Film Festival award recipient Serge Bromberg. I spoke with Brownlow (who lives and works in London) about his adventures in preserving the legacy of silent cinema and the state of film restoration.

Sean Axmaker: You were involved in restoration long before the digital era.

Kevin Brownlow: Well it was certainly before the digital days but I’m certain that people were restoring films before me. I just picked titles that seemed not to be what regular cinema would call ‘commercial.’

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SFSFF 2015: Serge Bromberg to the Rescue

Serge Bromberg started collecting films as kid. “I have been a film buff since the age of eight or nine. I used to buy films from Blackhawk and Castle and all those companies in America and in France when I was a teenager and watch those films and show those films to my friends. They didn’t care but there were no VCRs, no DVDs.”

‘Visages d’Enfants’

In 1985, not long out of college, he turned that passion into his mission. Joining forces with Eric Lange, they created Lobster Films, which has since become one of the preeminent forces of restoration and preservation of classic cinema—silent and sound films alike—in the world. Among its many accomplishments, Lobster is responsible for the preservation of hundreds of films by cinema pioneer Georges Méliès, including the discovery in 1999 of 17 films previously considered lost, and the works of the almost forgotten early animation genius Charley Bowers, and the restoration of early Charlie Chaplin shorts made for Keystone and Mutual and the sole surviving original hand-colored print of Georges Méliès’s landmark A Trip to the Moon. Of more recent vintage, Bromberg tracked down the unseen footage (including reels of unprocessed film) from Henri-George Clouzot‘s unfinished L’Enfer and presented the amazing images in the documentary Inferno.

Serge Bromberg will receive the 2015 San Francisco Silent Film Festival Award for his commitment and contribution to film preservation, which will be bestowed upon him at the world premiere screening of the new Lobster Films-produced restoration of Jacques Feyder‘s Visages d’Enfants / Faces of Children (1925).

I spoke with the Paris-based M. Bromberg via Skype a couple of week before he was to leave for San Francisco. Lobster Films had just suffered a computer crash and he had to take a laptop into the company’s basement breakroom. Behind him were stacks of film cans. “Those are not dummy cans,” he assured me. “They are actually cans of film in the process of being restored.” We couldn’t have a better setting if Cedric Gibbons had designed it.

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Schooled by Orson Welles: Roberto Perpignani

Anthony Perkins in ‘The Trial’

Roberto Perpignani quite auspiciously made his official debut as professional film editor on Bernardo Bertolucci‘s feature debut Before the Revolution (1964). He went on to work with Bertolucci on The Spider’s Stratagem (1970) and The Last Tango in Paris (1972) and became the longtime editor for Paolo and Vittorio Taviani, a collaboration that begin in 1972 with St. Michael Had a Rooster. Perpignani won the David di Donatello Award (the Italian equivalent of the Oscar) for film editing three times, twice for Taviani films—The Night of the Shooting Stars (1982) and Caesar Must Die (2012)—and in between for the international hit Il Postino (1994). But it was Orson Welles that started his career as a film editor, first on In the Land of Don Quixote, a series of short documentaries that Welles made for Spanish TV, and then as one of his primary assistant editors on The Trial. Perpignani cut the film at a makeshift editing bay in the abandoned train station Gare d’Orsay in Paris, where Welles was shooting in another section of the station, and worked on the film practically up to its debut in the final weeks of December, 1962.

I had the great honor of meeting Perpignani when he came to Seattle to introduce a screening of Bertolucci’s The Spider’s Stratagem at the Seattle Art Museum, a 1999 event co-sponsored by the University of Washington. He graciously agreed to sit for an interview the next day. “I’m sorry my English is terrible today,” he remarked. “Worse than usual.” Perhaps, but it was certainly better than my Italian, and he had help translating some phrases and words from a professor of Italian Studies at University of Washington, who hosted the interview at his home. It’s with some embarrassment that I confess that in the years since I lost that man’s name, for he was essential in making this interview happen.

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Interview: Jonathan Romney on ‘L’assenza’

Jonathan Romney is a film critic for The Independent and a regular contributor to Sight & Sound, Film Comment, Screen International and other publications. He’s also a filmmaker and most recently he wrote and directed L’assenza, a twenty-minute short about an everyday guy named Martin (Stephen Mangan) who watches an obscure Italian film (called, of course, L’assenza—“The Absence”) and spots an extra who bears a remarkable resemblance to him. He laughs it off with a joke but curiosity becomes obsession and as he watches the film again and again, the ill-at-ease extra seems to become aware of Martin’s observations.

L’assenza applies a very low-key wit to the cinema of doubles and doppelgängers and drops it into the world of cinephilia, which adds a new angle on the themes of voyeurism and obsession. And Romney’s fake Italian movie, shot in creamy black and white and set to a jazz score plucked right out of the culture of pretentious elegance, is such a spot-on recreation of the cinema of sophisticated people and empty lives you’d swear it’s the real thing. “It sounds like it should be the Antonioni movie that got away,” remarked Romney in our long-distance conversation.

‘L’assenza’ – the film within a film

L’assenza made its world premiere at the 2013 New York Film Festival, played in festivals around the world, and was a nominee in the Short Film category for the 2013 British Independent Film Awards. I spoke with Jonathan Romney by phone (late night for him, early afternoon for me, thanks to the time difference between England and America’s West Coast) and communicated with producer Carey Born via email conversations.

Sean Axmaker: Filmmakers usually make short films when they can’t get a feature going or to show their talent, like a resume of sorts. What inspired you to make a short film?

Jonathan Romney: Everyone starts by making short films before they make features. And if you have an idea that is the right idea and self-contained and has its own logic, you may as well make it. I’m working on a feature at the moment but I’ve been saying to people, ‘There’s also this other short that I want to make.’ People are saying, ‘Do you really need to make a short at the moment? Shouldn’t you be working on a feature?’ But this other short had been nagging at me. Short ideas do have a way of coming to your consciousness fully formed and they demand to get out. I’d wanted to do this particular story for some time.

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Treasure Hunting with the Zellners

‘Kumiko, the Treasure Hunter’

David and Nathan Zellner started making films together when they were kids, acting in their own home movies shot on camcorder. “I think that’s what first got is interested in making films is wanting to perform,” says David, director and co-star of their new feature Kumiko, the Treasure Hunter. It premiered at the 2014 Sundance Film Festival (where it won a Special Jury Prize for the score by The Octopus Project), was picked up for distribution by Amplify and has made stops at Fantasia and Nextfest this summer. It’s not their first feature—they’ve made four previous feature-length productions if you count a film they made right out college (it’s not available and they don’t even include it on IMDb), and that doesn’t take into account the many short films they’ve made in between—but it is poised to be their break-out film. Based on an urban legend of a Japanese woman who traveled to Minnesota to find the money buried in the snow at the end of Fargo (believing it to be “a true story” as the opening of the film insists), Kumiko, the Treasure Hunter is funny, wry, sweet, and engagingly offbeat, a lovely little character piece that embraces the eccentricities of its characters without ridiculing them.

I met up with David Zellner this past spring at the Seattle International Film Festival a few weeks before they had landed distribution (he hinted that something was in the works but could not discuss until everything was final. After he introduced a screening of Kumiko, the Treasure Hunter to a packed house at the Egyptian theater (and stuck around long enough to confirm that sound and image were to his satisfaction), we headed off to a nearby coffee shop and he sat down for a generous interview until he was due back for the Q&A.

In the middle of the interview, David was momentarily distracted by a man in the alley outside the coffee-shop window doing Tai Chi-like movements with an unconventional prop. “There’s a man doing Ninja moves with a fishing pole,” he remarked. “That was great! I wish I could have filmed it.” That enthusiasm explains their prolific output and their dedication to making short films between the features. Inspiration is everywhere. You just have to keep your eyes and your mind open.

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