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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SIFF 2016: Audiences give ‘Captain Fantastic’ the Golden Space Needle Award

And the award goes to… ‘Captain Fantastic’!

Seattle International Film Festival audiences bestowed top Golden Space Needle Awards on Captain Fantastic, Gleason and Spy Time (among others) while juried awards singled out Girl Asleep and the documentary Death by a Thousand Cuts at the 42nd Seattle International Film Festival.

Over 420 features, documentaries and short films from more than 85 countries were screened over the 25 days (and the last day is not over as of this writing, mind you) in 15 different venues.

Matt Ross’s Captain Fantastic (US), starring festival guest Viggo Mortensen (who was honored with the Festival’s Outstanding Achievement Award in Acting over the final weekend) and shot in part in the state of Washington, took the audience award for Best Film, Javier Ruiz Caldera won the Best Director award for Spy Time (Spain), Best Actor went to Rolf Lassgård for A Man Called Ove (Sweden/Norway), and Best Actress to Vicky Hernandez for Between Sea and Land (Colombia 2016).

Best Documentary was awarded to Gleason (US), directed by Clay Tweel, and Alive & Kicking: The Soccer Grannies of South Africa (USA/South Africa), directed by Lara-Ann de Wet, took home the Best Short Film award. The Lena Sharpe Award for Persistence of Vision given to the female director’s film that receives the most votes in public balloting at the Festival, went to The IF Project (USA ), directed by Kathlyn Horan.

New to the competition awards this years is the SIFF Official Competition award, selected from 12 entries making their World, North American, or US premiere at SIFF. Girl Asleep (Australia), the debut feature directed by Rosemary Myers, was honored with the award in its inaugural year.

Also new is the SIFF Ibero-American Competition, for films having their US premiere during the Festival that do not yet have US distribution. The inaugural winner is You’ll Never Be Alone (Chile ), the feature debut from Chilean writer-director Alex Anwandter.

The New Directors Competition winner is Sand Storm (Israel), directed by Elite Zexer; the New American Cinema Competition winner is Middle Man (USA), directed by Ned Crowley; and the Documentary Competition winner is Death By a Thousand Cuts (Dominican Republic/Haiti/USA), directed by Juan Mejia Botero and Jake Kheel.

The Short Film awards went to Killer (USA, directed by Matt Kazman) for live action, These C*cksucking Tears (USA, directed by Dan Taberski) for documentary, and Carlo (Italy, directed by Ago Panini) for animation.

The complete press release, which includes runners-up and jury statements, is featured below.
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The View Beyond Parallax… more reads for the week of June 10

D.W. Griffith’s ‘Intolerance’

“Never call Griffith quaint, either. If he was quaint at all, he was far-sightedly quaint. The naive excitement of grasping that all this fakery is genuine—meaning the way “How’d they do that?” used to play leapfrog in viewers’ minds with “Wow, they must’ve actually done that”—stayed part of the appeal of Hollywood spectaculars up through the late 1960s.” Starting with Griffith’s Babylon, with stops along the way for Tara, Metropolis, James Bond’s globetrotting, DeMille’s (and Las Vegas’s) Egypt and Harold Lloyd hanging from a skyscraper, Tom Carson takes a witty, oddly moving tour through Hollywood’s many fake worlds, and how they made so much more vivid an impression than the real one. Via David Hudson.

“Its hero might stumble over his words, but he does so in a Jimmy Stewart-like fashion, so full of gee-whiz energy that he sometime forgets himself before zooming off to the next crazy coincidence. The film is full of daytime shots and bright light, of reflections off the cars and planes, checkerboard dance floors, sequined dresses and metal helmets that make up its mise-en-scène. Most crucially, the movie’s spirit is deeply optimistic—it uses its satire not just to poke fun at old-time serial clichés, but to cast a light back on the present, and remind us of what we might have lost in the 53 intervening years.” Now that Marvel movies have proven the economic viability of upbeat superhero flicks, Brian Doan looks back to notorious flop The Rocketeer as a bright charmer ahead of its time.

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Seattle Screens: The Last of SIFF 2016 and Silent Movie Mondays is back

“We have heard the chimes at midnight”

It’s the final weekend of SIFF and Viggo Mortensen is coming to celebrate it. There are newly added screenings (including a second venue for the closing night film, The Dressmaker), visiting filmmakers, and more. You can survey the highlights at Parallax View’s SIFF overview and the comprehensive SIFF 2016 Guide.

The monthly film discussion “Framing Pictures” reconvenes in the screening room at Scarecrow Video at 7pm on Friday, June 10, with your hosts Robert Horton, Bruce Reid, and Richard T. Jameson. The discussion this month engage Orson Welles’s Chimes at Midnight (coming to SIFF Cinema on June 24, after a single screening at SIFF 2016), Jean Renoir’s first sound feature La Chienne (coming to Criterion next week), and Brian De Palma (a new documentary on the filmmaker opens on June 24, along with a short retrospective), and the floor is open to other timely subjects as well. It’s a free event so come join the discussion. Scarecrow is located in the U-District at 5030 Roosevelt Way N.E.

Silent Movie Mondays returns to the Paramount Theatre on Monday, June 13 (the day after SIFF 2016 closes) with the original Chicago (1927), produced by Cecil B. DeMille (who knew something about sex and showmanship) and starring Phyllis Haver as the cheerfully mercenary Roxie Hart. It’s the first in a three-film series celebrating the Flapper Era. The series continues with The Flapper (1920) with Olive Thomas on June 20 and Why Be Good (1929) with Colleen Moore, and all feature accompaniment on the Mighty Wurlitzer. Doors open at 6pm, films begin at 7pm. More on the Paramount page.

Viktoria, the debut feature from Maya Vitkova, charts three generations of women in the final years of the People’s Republic of Bulgaria and the early years of the new government, plays through Sunday, June 12 at NWFF.

Queer Fan Nights continues at NWFF with the Anna Nicole Smith feature To the Limit (1995) on Thursday, June 16 at 8pm (Happy Hour in the lobby at 7pm), co-sponsored by Three Dollar Bill Cinema.

It’s official: Noir City is returning to Seattle in July and it will be throwing its shadows at the Egyptian Theatre (I can’t think of a more appropriate venue in the city). That’s still weeks away, but the schedule is now live and tickets are on sale at SIFF.

Visit the film review pages at The Seattle TimesSeattle Weekly, and The Stranger for more releases.

View complete screening schedules through IMDbMSNYahoo, or Fandango, pick the interface of your choice.

SIFFtings 2016: Final Weekend (June 10-June 12)

Viggo Mortensen is honored with the Seattle Film Festival Award for Outstanding Achievement in Acting. The introspective, soft-spoken actor will be interviewed in an onstage Q&A at A Tribute to Viggo Mortensen on Saturday, June 11 at the Egyptian, followed by a screening of his latest film Captain Fantastic, which premiered at Sundance earlier this year and was just honored with the Best Director prize for writer/director Matt Ross from the Un Certain Regard section of Cannes. Ross will also attend the screening of the film, which repeats (sans onstage interview) on Sunday, June 12, at 2:30pm, Uptown.

The Mortensen tribute, meanwhile, continues all weekend with special screenings of three films:
Eastern Promises (2007) on Friday, June 10, 9:30pm, Uptown
The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King (2003), Saturday, June 11, 11:30pm, Egyptian (be warned: this is 3 ½ hours long, which is a serious investment for a Midnight Movie);
A Walk on the Moon (1999), Sunday, June, 12, 11am, Uptown

Frank & Lola, a romantic noir thriller starring Michael Shannon and Imogen Poots, is directed by Matthew Ross (not to be confused with Captain Fantastic director Matt Ross), who will attend the screening.
Saturday, June 11, 7pm. Pacific Place

Jocelyn Moorhouse will attend the SIFF Closing Night Gala The Dressmaker, based on the novel by Rosalie Ham and starring Kate Winslet, Liam Hemsworth, Judy Davis, and Hugo Weaving, at The Cinerama. It is sold out and on standby and a second show has been added at 6:30pm, Pacific Place Cinemas (does not include a director appearance or closing night party).

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Review: Maggie’s Plan

Maya Rudolph and Greta Gerwig

It’s possible that the author of Death of a Salesman might have fathered a child with a gift for the rapid-fire style of screwball comedy. But in her films as writer/director, Arthur Miller’s daughter has remained true to his somber mood. Rebecca Miller seems entirely at home in the heaviness of her 2005 drama The Ballad of Jack and Rose (which starred her husband, Daniel Day-Lewis, no laugh riot himself). And when hilarity breaks out in Miller’s Private Lives of Pippa Lee (2009), it’s like a desperate bark from someone drowning.

Miller’s new film, Maggie’s Plan, has the contours—and the far-fetched storyline—of a screwball comedy, and although it misses the happy rhythm of that ditzy film subgenre, it substitutes something intriguing.

Continue reading at Seattle Weekly

Video: Framing Pictures – May 2016

Film critics Bruce Reid, Richard T. Jameson, Kathleen Murphy, and Robert Horton debate and discuss the recent restorations of film noir orphans Too Late for Tears and Woman on the Run, the legacy of Sam Peckinpah, Ben Wheatley’s new film High-Rise, and (non)critical opinions of Captain America: Civil War in the May 2016 edition of Framing Pictures from Scarecrow Video.

These discussions are held in the screening room of Scarecrow Video on the second Friday of every month and are free to attend. The video appears a few weeks later on the Seattle Channel.

The June edition will take place on Friday, June 10 at 7pm at the Scarecrow Video Screening Room. More information at the Framing Pictures Facebook page.

Review: Alfredo, Alfredo

[Originally published in Movietone News 31, April 1974]

Dustin Hoffman is seen without being heard in Pietro Germi’s Alfredo, Alfredo, but the disadvantage is minor, so adroitly does he adapt himself to the characteristic and very photographable behavioral style of the harried Germi male, made iconically vivid and familiar by Marcello Mastroianni in Divorce Italian Style. As there and in subsequent films like Seduced and Abandoned and The Birds, the Bees, and the Italians, Germi employs hectic, sardonic, sometimes slapstick comedy to exemplify the very real agonies that result from the clash of love, sex, and social strictures in his native land. Whereas Divorce Italian Style satirized an existing dilemma, Alfredo celebrates historical progress: something like divorce American style has finally replaced the last resort, upholding the Unwritten Law, and the new picture actually begins with the protagonist in the lawyer’s office preparing to shed his less-than-ideal spouse. Not that divorce is the be-all, end-all, and cure-all in Germi’s scheme of things: he and his hero conclude the film with shaky optimism at best, almost certain that the new marriage being made in the final scene will also prove unworkable.

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Review: A King in New York

[Originally published in Movietone News 32, June 1974]

Charles Chaplin’s 1956 English movie A King in New York begins with a mob surging into a palace shouting “We want the head of Charlot!” Or so the auteurist ear registers it for a moment—actually it’s Shahdov, not Charlot, the people want the head of. But Shahdov is played by Charlie Chaplin. Same difference. A King in New York has long been spoken of as Chaplin’s cinematic kissoff to the country that turned thumbs down on him and his Monsieur Verdoux in the late Forties when he became too politically outspoken—the wrong sort of politics—and found himself in a paternity suit as well; an assistant Attorney General of that country denied the British-born Chaplin a reentry visa after he’d gone abroad in the early Fifties, and so the man who was once the best-loved figure in the United States and probably the world elected to sit out the rest of his life in Switzerland.

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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

Review: Weiner

Anthony Weiner in the documentary ‘Weiner’

Even the title of the documentary is a punch line. It could’ve been given a tragic title like The Last Crusade, or something soberly ironic like Public Service, or maybe the Raymond Carver-esque You Would Know If This Was Your Underpants (taken from perhaps the greatest thing Wolf Blitzer ever said to anybody on CNN). But no, the documentary is called Weiner, and its title character is just going to have to live with that. As he will have to live with many things for the rest of his life.

Anthony Weiner is a former seven-term U.S. representative (a New York Democrat) whose career collapsed after a 2011 sexting scandal. He sent indelicate messages to women who were not his wife, some of which included explicit photographs of himself, or parts of himself. Before the scandal broke, Weiner was a lively—indeed fiery—congressman, prone to splendid displays of temper on the House floor. He was also a reliably eloquent and bellicose guest on cable-news shows.

Continue reading at Seattle Weekly

Based on a True Story: 8 Documentaries that Inspired Feature Films

True stories have been a prime inspiration for movies for as long as there have been movies. Early films recreated historical events and breaking news for eager audiences and films as disparate as I Am a Fugitive from a Chain Gang (1921) and In Which We Serve (1942) to All the President’s Men (1976) and Spotlight (2015) turned recent history into compelling drama. Books, newspapers and sometimes TV and radio news reports were primary sources for years, but more recently, documentary films have become an inspiration for adapting real-life stories and riveting events. In fact, a fictionalized version of the story told in the Independent Lens film The Great Invisible is due out this fall: Deepwater Horizon stars Mark Wahlberg as an electrician on the doomed oil rig.

While dramatized versions, with their movie stars and big budgets and carefully crafted screenplays, are invariably more popular, the original documentaries have their own, more compelling stories to tell. It’s not just a matter of “the original is better” or “documentaries are real.” Non-fiction films are shaped as surely as feature films but the immediacy, the authenticity of subjects who haven’t been polished for prime time, the messy historical records that don’t necessarily hew to the structure of the traditional three-act story all offer a different kind of drama. And the best of these non-fiction works are as dynamic and powerful as Hollywood’s greatest fictions.

We look at the relationship between eight films and the documentaries that inspired them, and why the original documentaries are still essential. Read on to plan some quality based-on-a-true-story double-features.

The Walk (2015), inspired by: Man on Wire (2008)

Robert Zemeckis dramatized the story of Philippe Petit, the French wire-walker and street performer who strung a tightwire between the Twin Towers and walked between the newly-constructed buildings in 1974, in his 2015 feature The Walk, using 3D technology to communicate the awe and wonder of the event from Petit’s perspective. Filmmaker James Marsh had neither the budget nor the technology for his 2008 documentary Man on Wire but he didn’t need it. Petit and his collaborators tell their own story, a mix of performance art and heist thriller, and Marsh illustrates their tale with news footage and brief recreations of their rehearsals. The documentary is just as compelling as the dramatic retelling, a reminder that storytelling is at the heart of great documentary filmmaking.

Continue reading at Independent Lens

Review: Dillinger

[Originally published in Movietone News 24, July-August 1973]

That our final glimpse of John Dillinger should be out of focus is appropriate. Dillinger promised to be an exciting directorial debut for John Milius—promised especially hard in the first quarter of an hour—and the role of Dillinger himself presented Warren Oates with the perfect opportunity to etch one of the great characterizations of the American screen, as well as to win widespread recognition at long last. That Oates has failed to achieve either scarcely seems his fault since, whenever he is given screen time, he hovers on the verge of discovering a dangerous and original persona—and, it must be added, he looks historically perfect, unsettlingly so. But Dillinger and anyone else resembling a character are essentially lost sight of, except as gunmen and targets, from about the midpoint of the film onward—that is, starting with the Mason City, Iowa, massacre. The mayhem is powerfully filmed and individual shots are often vividly visualized, but Milius fails completely to give sequences or whole sections of the film any cohesion or sense of purpose beyond slam slam slam.

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Blu-ray: ‘Dillinger’ by Milius

John Dillinger was the most notorious of the Depression-era gangsters and his exploits (and attendant newspaper coverage) made him a romantic anti-hero to many of the folks who felt betrayed by the bankers and businessmen of the country.

DillingerDillinger (Arrow, Blu-ray+DVD), the 1973 gangster film and directorial debut of John Milius, plays on that image of the gentleman gangster who courted the public and the press while he robbed banks across the American Midwest. It was one of the best of the many period gangster films that poured out in the wake of Bonnie and Clyde and made anti-heroes of outlaws.

Warren Oates stars as Dillinger and it is great casting; not only does he resemble the real-life gangster but he brings a rugged charm to the role, whether cautioning bystanders and bank tellers during the robberies (“This could be one of the big moments in your life,” he says at one point. “Don’t make it your last”) or genially bantering with the press after he’s arrested the first time. Ben Johnson plays Melvin Purvis, the Midwest FBI agent who made Dillinger a priority as his fame became an embarrassment for the Bureau. The film covers his brief rampage across the Midwest states, his romance with Billy Frechette (Michelle Philips), his flamboyant prison break, the supergang that included Pretty Boy Floyd (Steve Kanaly) and the bloodthirsty Baby Face Nelson (Richard Dreyfuss), and his bloody demise outside of a Chicago movie theater in 1934 in the company of “the lady in red” (played by Cloris Leachman). Harry Dean Stanton, Geoffrey Lewis, John P. Ryan, and Frank McRae co-star as members of Dillinger’s gang through the years and Milius gives them all distinctive parts.

Milius was one of the highest paid screenwriters in Hollywood when he made the film for AIP, taking a cut in exchange for the chance to direct, and AIP (famed for drive-in pictures) poured money into this film in hopes of a mainstream breakthrough and a little prestige. Though small by studio standards, it was the biggest budget of any AIP picture to that time and Milius creates a terrific evocation of the era and delivers impressive action scenes, shoot-outs, and car chases on a tight budget.

Arrow’s edition is restored in 2K from the original 35m interpositive and features both Blu-ray and DVD versions of the film with commentary by film historian Stephen Prince and new interviews with producer Lawrence Gordon (10 minutes), director of photography Jules Brenner (12 minutes), and composer Barry De Vorzon (12 minutes), plus an isolated music and effects track and bonus booklet.

More classics on Blu-ray and DVD at Cinephiled