Author Archives: Laura Rossi

Posts: 15 (archived below)
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Zeshawn Ali

When asked to define Indie films, Zeshawn Ali replies “I would say Indie film is like ‘Do-it yourself’ film making, it’s not so much about a style as it is more about the amount of resources you have…the type of movie you make is determined by your budget.” He pauses and says “It’s all about the new film makers.”

Ali can relate. The twenty year old Ohio native has made his way to the big city to follow his dreams in becoming a filmmaker. He currently attends Tisch School of the Arts in NYU.

Ali shooting for his newest film

Through his education at Tisch, Zeshawn says that they really emphasize a lot on helping the student make a film that you can continue to pursue outside of college. They call it “The Fifth Year Film.” “It helps prepare you for the real world” Zeshawn adds. This may just be true, considering Tisch has gotten a lot of attention lately from its most recent graduates, Luke Mattenu, having won an Oscar for his short film “God of Love.”

Ali claims that the students who are born and raised in New York City obviously have an advantage in showing these unknown and amazing locations in their films. Those who are not from the city focus more on being experimental and adding a “weird style” to their films. “At Tisch, there seem to be two types of filmmaking, there are those who are from the city and those who are not and it is so easy to distinguish between the two.”

That logic also seems to apply to even the most prestigious film festivals. Ali worked for the Tribeca Film Festival for six months, helping prepare for its opening in the spring of 2010. “They separate the films into the Hollywood alternative films versus the outreach films.” Hollywood alternative films are with first time directors who have big Hollywood figures star in their films. The outreach films are the low budget, indie films that make their way to this showing for a chance to be spotted by a big time director or producer to endorse their future projects.”I personally prefer the Hollywood films, only because its cool to see these big time actors, who probably aren’t getting paid much, help participate and work with a first time director.”

“We did a lot of research on films, I was part of the development department and did alot of market research  like collect exit polls, which are surveys viewers take after seeing the movie and use them as part of the research.”  Zeshawn also explained that when picking which films to place in the festivals, the department purposefully picks those that are different from previous award winners. “They’re really into foreign films this year” Zeshawn adds.

Though all films entered into the Tribeca Film Festival are from New York City, its filmmakers nationalities range from all over the world. Ali says that Brazil is the newest spark of interest for the festival and that most of its contestants have made films there.  “It adds a lot more diversity to the mix and therefore continues to make the film choices different from years prior.”

Zeshawn is most excited for his upcoming internship with Magnolia Pictures. The newest film that they have released is All Good Things, starring Kristen Dunst and Ryan Renolds. The film is inspired by a missing person’s case set in New York City in 1982. Robert Durst was suspected but never put on trial for killing his wife Kathie who mysteriously disappeared and was never found.  The film is also produced and directed by Andrew Jarecki, who was the director of the Academy Award-nominated documentary Capturing the Friedmans and producer of Catfish.

“I make movies about things I know and the things that people in my movie know” Zeshawn has made about 12-15 films within the past two years at Tisch, all incorporating what he calls real life elements. “I only use people I know in my films and I make sure to use what those people know as a main aspect of my film.  One of my friends was really into graffiti and I took his knowledge and love for the subject and incorporated it into my film. It makes it real.” You can check out Zeshawns work here.

Posted in Independent Film | 2 Comments

Wasp Review

The 2005 Oscar winning short film Wasp left me with a bad sting. Directed by Andrea Arnold, the film takes you into the lives of a poor, young, beat down baby-mama and her four children.

The entire film is one big reminder that not everyone who has a child is ready to be a parent, as is shown through Zoe, who is irresponsible, selfish and ultimately abandons her children for the majority of the movie. Yet, Arnold draws into question the meaning of love and marternal instincts that are naturally given to every mother.

Though Zoe does leave her daughters hungry and stranded outside of a bar, while she is inside hooking up with a mystery man from her past, the movie does open with a strange but interesting scene of Zoe running to her neighbors house and beating her while screaming “Don’t you ever fucking touch my children!” She also bolts out of mystery mans car while they are hooking up as soon as she hears her daughter call her name.

Its interesting to evaluate Zoe’s character because while we are meant to believe that she is a sort of white trash slut who just doesnt give a damn, it is clear that she is very young, and almost represents the new “Teen Mom” phase that America is currently going through, even though this movie is based in England.

The only part of Wasp that made me feel anything was through the acting, but that doesnt hide the fact that the story line is completely pointless. I understand Arnold wanted to just throw the viewer into the lives of this demented family but it really did not portray any sort of substance.

In the mist of it being Oscar season, I saw more talent in this years short film nominees than in this winner. It is truly mind-boggling to comprehend why it won.

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The One That Got Away

The Confession, Tanel Toom’s eerie but exhilarating tale of adolescence heavily influenced by religious ideals is one that leaves the viewer with an ominous feeling that causes them to question the films motives long after it is over.

The beautiful cinematography sets the mood for the film. A serene landscape shot of a sunrise over a cornfield with a simple silhouette of a scarecrow on a cross seems peaceful yet foreshadows the shuddersome plot that has yet to unfold.

The film continues in a Catholic school classroom in a small town in England. The story follows Sam, an innocent nine year old boy whose biggest anxiety is not having a sin to reveal to the priest at his first communion. Sams best friend Jacob convinces him not to fear for together they will execute a sinful act so he can properly confess.

They decide to steal the scarecrow from Sam’s father’s cornfield and it is then that the film quickly escalates from a light hearted story about a boy’s first communion to one of horror and tragedy. “It was an accident.” Jacob tries to convince Sam, but Sams conscious is the driving force for the rest of the film.

Tanel Toom has another widely acclaimed short film called The Second Coming (2008) about a soldier who has a hard time coping with his brother’s death. Toom has a knack for incorporating death and religion into his cinematic works.

There is a way that Toom tugs on the viewer’s heartstrings by reminding the viewer that these are just nine year old boys with seemingly innocent intentions. The scenes of them riding their bikes to school and playing in their secret spot in the woods serves as an innuendo of this.  Toom taps into the human condition and exploits the significance that is placed upon the concept of religion. The balance between youth and sin makes it hard for the audience to form a solid opinion on the matters at hand, which seem to be religions negative impacts on its followers.

Lewis Howlett in The Confession

But it is also noteworthy to say that the child actors, Lewis Howlett who plays Sam and Joe Eals who plays Jacob, are who bring the driving emotions to the film. The intensity they bring to their roles are what rub off on the audience and leave them with shivers. Sam’s ultimate dilemma is not simple to find an answer for. Howlett really depicts the struggle he faces in where he has to place his faith.  Is it within God, his best friend, or himself?

It is all this and more that make it clear as to why The Confession has earned its Oscar nomination for best live action short film. When showing the shorts at the IFC Theater in New York City, the Academy chose The Confession as the first film to appear within the sequence and sets off the theme of humans coping in their darkest hour.  Although, as Bernardo Villela writes from The Movie Rat “It is so shockingly rare to see a short film that is so layered and plays on so many levels as this one does.”

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A New Found Tradition

2011Live-Action Oscar Nominated Short Films

          I have always been under the impression that the only way I would spend the hefty thirteen dollars at a movie theater would be after a certain set of criteria: constant brainwashing of the latest action flick by way of excessive advertising, something that when I say the name, people have already heard of it. It would be able to spark a conversation with others. It would preferably be a good movie, but that has become less and less of a priority, evident by the latest slew of motion pictures coming out (No Strings Attached, anyone?).
However, recently I got a chance to watch the live action Oscar-nominated short films at the IFC Theater and it revamped my view of why to watch movies. The five films I saw were The Confession (my personal favorite), Wish 143, Na Wewe, The Crush and God of Love.

The IFC Theater on West 3rd street

The showing was at the IFC theater located on West 3rd and 6th ave. I know this area well, considering one of my old summer jobs was located on 5th Street and 6th Avenue. I would always see the theater when I would exit the F train at West 4th street. Passing the theater was as normal to me as my morning coffee. Unfortunately, I never took the initiative to go inside and see a movie.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I have always had a major appreciation for short films. During high school I made a few for my Videography class and I’d like to think I can relate and understand the struggles that these filmmakers faced. “What is a powerful story line that we can convey within 15 minutes and how can we make the audience really feel something after?” Well, every Oscar- nominated filmmaker accomplished this and more. The end of each film didn’t phase to put me through a roller coaster of emotions that honestly left me confused but enlightened when I left the theater.

It’s a bit depressing that I didn’t go see these movies because of any intrinsic motivation; I was forced to for school. However, from now on I want to make watching the Oscar nominated short films a yearly ritual. Gabrielle Ouaknine, my fellow classmate and movie-going partner in crime was the one who proposed this genius idea “It would make me more excited to watch the Oscars while showing my support for the little guys in the industry that got recognized for they’re extreme talent.” I couldn’t have said it better myself.

Posted in Independent Film, Oscar Shorts | 1 Comment

The Webisode’s Growing Popularity

Webisodes are becoming the hot new alternative to television shows.  They have gained major popularity though out the last few years, and it’s understandable why. They have a major convenince factor and are easily accessible, rather than having to wait for it to come on on television. Yet, like television, there is always the dissappointment of coming across cheesy webisodes, which in my experience turned out to be  Oh, Inverted World and Suite 7, I had the bad luck with both.

Oh, Inverted World follows a group of twenty-something’s first getting out of college and unsure where to really go from there. They arrive back in their hometowns and hit up the local bar as if nothings changed.  Through this seemingly bland story line, writer and producer Terence Krey decides to throw in a random apocalyptic concept of the moon crashing into the earth.

As if the story line isn’t sporadic enough, the flow of the webisode will drive you in for a loop. As fellow viewer Joe Jackson puts it “ I was lost, I wasn’t sure what kind of emotions they were trying to portray and the plot just kept jumping around from place to place, I really didn’t get it.” That makes two of us.

Though, if you want to get into conveying emotion, nothing really tops Suite 7, starring Shannen Doherty, Brian Austin Green and in the webisode I happened to watch, Wilson Cleveland (Yeah, I don’t know who he is either).

This dramatic story of a depressed guest seeking love advice from the doofy hotel manager turns out to be flat out comical. Though I would say the acting in this is no doubt better than Oh Inverted World, that is only because Doherty does have some acting experience under her belt (90210 anyone?) but it doesn’t save the downright sappy, unrealistic story line that follows. I wasn’t really expecting much better, it is on Lifetime after all.

Now, if I had to pick between these two, I suppose I would give credit where credit is due and choose Oh, Inverted World. Its supported by “black and white production” aka a low budget indie company, and yet still conveys creativity, hard work and overall some originality which Suite 7 seemed to lack. This is probably all the actors first real films anyway so you can’t expect them to give Oscar-worthy performances. I don’t know if there really any excuse for Suite 7 though.

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