Worldwide Movie Culture Returns At This Year’s Rhode Island International Film Festival

riffSLIDEEntering its 18th year since its founding by George T. Marshall, the founder of the Flicker Arts Collaborate, RIIFF has become a focal point of international films by everyone from up-and-coming filmmakers to highly seasoned actors and directors. Between August 5 and 10 this year, roughly 270 films will be shown including Flavio Alves’ Tom In America, Marcelo Mitnik’s En las nubes (In the Clouds), and Selcuk Zvi Cara’s Mein Leztes Konzert (My Last Concert)

Since 2002, the RIIFF has been a qualifying festival for the Academy Awards in short film categories. Numerous stars and celebrities have attended RIIFF over the past decade including Seymour Cassel, Andrew McCarthy, Kim Chan and Michael Showalter. Some have had the honor of receiving the Festival Lifetime Achievement Award. In 2001 it was awarded to Breakfast At Tiffany’s director, Blake Edwards, accepted by his wife, renowned actress Julie Andrews. In 2009, the honor went to the multi-Emmy and Golden Globe nominated Academy Award winner Ernest Borgnine.

This year’s recipient is Theodore Bikel, known for originating the role of Captain Van Trapp in “The Sound of Music” on Broadway and Oscar nominated for 1958’s The Defiant Ones. Bikel speaks 10 languages, and will be presenting his film, “Journey 4 Artists” a multi-lingual, musical piece that seeks to bridge cultural gaps through folk music and stories, including Bosnian, Jewish and Arabic samples. It will be paired with Cara’s Mein Leztes Konzert, a short Yiddish film about a composer, which Quirk calls, “A visual poem. I haven’t really seen a film like this before.” They screen Sunday at 2:30 at RISD’s Metcalf Auditorium.

Events during this year’s festival include the Rhode Island Film Forum, a symposium of film industry leaders and the local film community, assembled to discuss a variety of topics from the technical side of cinematography to the future of film festivals. Also, a workshop on balancing your film’s budget will be presented by Tom DeNucci of Woodhaven Productions.

“We’re very excited to have two nights of screenings at PPAC this year,” says Festival Artistic Director Shawn Quirk. That includes the opening night screening and gala at 7pm on Aug 5th.

Scriptbiz, a long-standing screenwriters workshop, and KidsEye, a celebration of children’s film, will also be taking place during RIIFF, as will a midnight horror show on Friday night, featuring the post-apocalyptic Another World by Israeli filmmaker Ellan Reuven and Ben Gordon’s short Dracula & My Mother, starting at 11:30pm at the Bell St. Chapel.

Local films will also be showcased. “We have a great mix of local and global,” says Quirk. There will be Steel Shoes, a documentary about horseback riding by Cranston filmmaker Alyssa Migliori, featured shorts by locals Eric Latek and Bill Smith, and an afternoon “Underground Fest” dedicated to up and coming local filmmakers (8:30pm Saturday at Bell St.).

To view the film schedule, showcase locations, and purchase tickets, go to: riff.festivalgenius.com

Haven Brothers: Legacy of the American Diner – Food on a truck, man!

Haven-Brothers-movie-Providence-premiereBeautiful late spring weather favored the crowds sampling the diner fare from the iconic truck parked in front of the Columbus Theatre on Broadway early in the evening of Saturday, June 7, at the Providence premiere of Haven Brothers: Legacy of the American Diner, the directorial debut of independent Rhode Island film maker Jeff Toste. The diner itself could not fit inside the auditorium so patrons could watch the documentary through its windows, but it was the next best thing.

The documentary itself is surprisingly fast-paced for what one expects at first to be a limited subject, but creative cinematography shows perspectives that are not apparent from casual acquaintance, shooting from the outside looking in and taking a few time-lapse spins as the diner wends its way through the streets. Glimpses into the process of extensive preparation needed to keep the diner running on its odd-hours sunset-to-sunrise schedule prove fascinating, with the clean-up and behind-the-scenes resetting of the mobile restaurant beginning in the morning almost as soon as it gets back to its berth – with, of course, a different crew.

The core of the film, though, is the myriad characters involved with the various aspects of the story, ranging from centenarians who dismiss disputes about authenticity out of hand with emphatic matter-of-factness — “It’s the diner! It’s in the same place!” – to near-centenarian descendants of prior operators. Providence Journal reporter Karen Lee Ziner, not exactly known for her prowess at singing and dancing, even obliges with a reprise of her song “I’m a Haven Brothers Hot Dog” to the tune of the old advertising jingle “I’m an Oscar Meyer Weiner,” originally performed for the satirical Newspaper Guild Follies.

Former Mayor Joseph Paolino emerges as the almost-likeable villain of the piece, having sparked public opposition with a proposal to relocate the food truck to the hinterlands away from its prime space next to City Hall adjacent to Kennedy Plaza. Paolino admits that the plan was ill-advised and said that in such circumstances he did what any politician would do: “I folded like an accordion.” As a kind of peace offering, Paolino hosted a 100-year anniversary party in 1988 – except that it turns out the business started in 1893 rather than 1888, but everyone figured it was, literally, close enough for government work.

Started by a widow with her husband’s life insurance money in an era when status as a widow made it possible to buck the usual constraints of a society where women were not ordinarily expected to be independent, she employed her sons in the original incarnation of what would always be a family business for a succession of different families. In this sense, the film invites comparison with one of the classics of modern documentaries, Jiro Dreams of Sushi, which although nominally about Japan’s most famous sushi chef and his obsession with quality and perfection, is ultimately about the relationship of an 85-year-old father and his patient and loyal 60-year-old son. Haven Brothers is not turning Japanese, though, and although the son gets involved at age 14 – he eventually takes his driving test using the diner truck – he quickly assumes increasing responsibility from his father.

Today, the son runs the business five days a week and the father runs the business two days a week, marking a generational laying on of hands that, almost as much as the diner itself, harks back to a past era. Yet this continuity suggests that there is no reason that the family business could not continue on to a third and fourth generation, showing exactly that sense of permanence and perseverance that is so highly valued by Rhode Islanders. Haven Brothers: Legacy of the American Diner is the quintessential Rhode Island documentary about a beloved Rhode Island institution.

Profile of director Jeff Toste: motifri.com/havenbros/

Haven Brothers: Legacy of the American Diner official web site: havenbrothersmovie.com/

Trailers: youtube.com/user/havenbrothersmovie

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/havenbrothersmovie

Watching ‘Matty Christian’

Follow Matty Christian as he learns to “navigate the world”

4611336975_1102x751I wasn’t expecting to like this film. The people involved I knew to be competent, consummate, creative professionals. But I don’t like my heartstrings to be rigorously jerked. Maybe a little jerking, after a slow, gentle warm-up – but I’ve never responded well to films that go straight for tear-duct or coast on the natural human compassion that some predicaments inspire. When Sally Struthers used to bombard me with requests for my daily cup of coffee, I would turn off my compassion centers – perhaps in self-defense, perhaps because she was trying so very hard to trigger them.

So I was pretty surprised when, half an hour into this documentary, I found myself pleasantly engaged in the unusual story of a boy with almost no arms and legs, and the family that raised him. (The title works both literally and metaphorically).

The film is straightforward in its presentation, not really trying to wring hysterics or drama out of the story. We start with young Matty, and see him learn to navigate the world. As a baby. As a young man. In college. And as a young adult.

The pacing is solid, the people likable. The editing by filmmaker Christian DeRezendes (no relation) is comfortable and unobstrusive – perfect for a craft which, if you do it right, goes deliberately unnoticed by an audience too involved in the story to notice the technique. The film is also bolstered by an understated, sensitive score created by musician Eric Barao. Each is an established local professional who put years of effort on this project – and it shows.

The heart of it all, of course, is the young man at the center of the story. It’s easy to wonder what he would have thought of all this. The film shys away from an in-depth look at drugs and alcohol in the lives of young people. But that’s a good thing – we’ve had plenty of movies of the week about those topics. It does not try to idealize its main character, or flinch from how these factors were involved in his life. It’s refreshingly matter-of-fact about this and other topics.

The film also manages to bring its story’s humorous side to life. It’s hard to describe what’s funny about watching a young Matty Christian wrestle obstinately with a T-shirt that ends up wrapped around his head, as he tries to finesse it into place with his dexterous but ultimately handless arms. It doesn’t sound funny – but it brought the house down in a recent screening at the historic Columbus Theatre. The film finds similar moments in everything from his childhood exuberance to the many alcohol-related collegiate advantages wearing hollow legs can bring.

Overall, as someone who avoids tearjerkers and medical stories like the plague, I found this film extremely watchable, and full of scenes and moments that have really stuck with me.

Upcoming Screenings:

Real to Reel International Film Festival-  July 12 at 7 PM

Woods Hole Film Festival- July 29, Tuesday at 7 PM


Scene and Heard: Should I Stay or Should I Go?


Filmmaking in Rhode Island

Someone once mentioned the institution of marriage when comparing our little state and its high and low points. I love you. I have to be away from you. And so opines this commentator. Much like the quandary that faces most artists in their lifetime … to be seen or to hide from the world. I think the former is winning the war. At least, I’m seeing this trend in the film world. People are staying, and making movies. Some of them are working with big time directors and mega stars of Hollywood. Some are writing very personal stories that move others to sit up and take notice. Still others are maxing out credit cards and taking personal loans to finally make that damn movie, no matter what. I’ve seen some of our professors by day, hunched over their laptops at night, banging away their vision because they have no choice. I’ve seen the mockumentaries being done about this maddening process. And despite the difficulty in getting it done, they get it done. They win awards too.

And the students! I can’t believe the dedication to their art form. Student films abound from URI, RISD and other universities. There’s also the RI Council on the Arts program called the Give Me 5 Lab, a  commando-style filmmaking afternoon for teens, where the kids write, cast, shoot, edit, score and present their work all in one afternoon. Teens who come to mind are Fountain of Youth Films, made up of two ambitious young ladies, Audrey Larson and Shay Martin, who make feature films. Or the RI-based PBS show called “Teenage Critic,” a show written and produced by teens. I have to mention another star on the horizon – the producer of that show, Ms. Lara Sebastian. Sebastian secured a grant from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences for her documentary on education reform in the town of Central Falls, RI. She’s aiming to interview Viola Davis for this doc. And she does all this while running the kitchen at 88 in Providence. Yep, she‘s a chef too. (Some people just amaze me. They really do.)

On the prof end, we have Laura Colella at RISD (who is now taking a sabbatical at Brown to get an advanced degree) who wrote, produced and acted in her film Breakfast With Curtis, and got the attention of none other than Paul Thomas Anderson. Last I heard, Laura was editing Anderson’s newest film, Inherent Vice, due out in January 2015. Or how about Derek Dubois, professor at RIC, who won five awards for his films, has a documentary premiering in August of this year and just finished his newest short, Sinners. Creepy, folks. And his Lucid scared me outright with some terrific work from cast/crew.

Speaking of horror films, we have no shortage there. Our little state has sold more horror films in the last six months and garnered more distro deals than Carter has liver pills. (Ok, do they even say that anymore? Am I dating myself? Probably. Who cares?) There are the boys from 989, Anthony Ambrosino and Nick Delmenico, who, in conjunction with Channel 83 Films, made and sold the horror/sci-fi flick Almost Human after rave reviews at their midnight showing at the Toronto Film Festival. Or how about Ricky Laprade, who sold Villanelle, (a stylish piece around an old poetic art form), and will probably do the same with his film Erebus. Or Jordan Pacheco, a bona-fide paranormal investigator who got his film Provoked distributed.

You can’t talk about horror films without including Woodhaven Production Co. They just wrapped their film, Tommy DeNucci’s Almost Mercy, starring Bill Mosely from Devil’s Rejects. Their parent company, Verdi Films, will produce Bleed for This, a story about boxer Vinny Paz, with Martin Scorsese in RI this July. By the way, Almost Mercy had a hell of a production manager by the name of Mr. Raz Cunningham, who just won Regional Best Feature through the SENE Film Festival for his film Wander My Friends, a flick written and produced by Raz and producer Mel Hardy, about comic book creators and the fight to keep their company. I laughed out loud at this one. Every joke landed, people. Even when the disc stopped playing unexpectedly, we all sat and waited patiently for the fix. (I have the privilege of working on Raz’s next feature film called Special Feature, a mockumentary about the making of an indie film along with Tommy DeNucci as Ricky Ramm, the overbearing, ram-it-down-your-throat DJ.)

I’d be remiss if I did not mention Mr. Richard Marr-Griffin who has 16 films in distribution and is currently filming another one called Sins of Dracula. He’s not done with Accidental Incest yet, a campy little tale that I have a small part in. What fun!

Should I stay or should I go? I’m stayin’. But either way, folks, film is rolling in RI. Big time.