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Day 2 - April 6
The second day of the festival dawned gray and with a steady rain that would continue not only throughout the day, but right on through the evening. While this doesn’t make for great exploring the town between screenings and events, it’s pretty perfect movie-watching weather. And since there are 48 films being shown over the weekend, that’s just the kind of weather I need.
12:15 p.m. – CinebistroThere’s no other way to say this – the Cinebistro Theater, right in the heart of downtown Vail, is the swankiest movie theater I’ve ever been in. Full stop. It’s one of those theaters where you can get full on meals to eat while you watch, and everything about it feels top of the line. This is not any kind of sponsored statement, just an observation that holy cow, this place is nice.
Film No. 2 – “Tribal Justice” There’s a phrase that comes up numerous times in Anne Makepeace’s documentary about the efforts of two Native American judges in California striving to make an impact for their tribes and people, and that phrase is “restorative justice.”
As opposed to state judicial decisions that are more punitive in nature, especially in relations to Native American people, Yurok Judge Abby Abinanti and Quechan Judge Claudette White strive to use their positions to improve the lives of their people, and give those who need it all the help possible.
The film acknowledges the brutal and dehumanizing effect of “the invasion” – a term that is especially sobering as the descendent of European immigrants to this country – and how “civilizing” efforts of Christian Europeans lead to the stripping of tribal land, identity and oftentimes, removal of children from tribal culture.
Makepeace’s film is imbued with a deep respect and affection for these cultures, and with a deep admiration for the work both judges are doing. It’s difficult to not be moved by the film and its protagonists, as flawed as all are.
Both Abinanti and White are working with the California judicial system to take a stronger roll in helping their people, and “Tribal Justice” smartly goes for a hopeful ending, rather than a happy one. As one of the young people judge White has tattooed on his arm, “Every sinner has a future.”
4:30 p.m. – 10th Mountain WhiskeyNow this is more like it.
Whiskey fans know it’s one of the best drinks for warming one up after a cold, damp day, and the rustic wood and stone décor of 10th Mountain Whiskey makes for the perfect atmosphere for a more personal filmmaker experience. It’s not as crowded as the opening event, and you can actually get to know some fellow attendees.
MORE: Vail Film Festival kicks off with a celebration of women filmmakers.
I have the opportunity to speak to actors, writers, directors, and producers, and to a person, there’s a tremendous amount of passion and dedication about their work. These are not people who are phoning it in, or are in it for the paycheck or a shot a celebrity. Everyone has a story to tell, and they want to tell it.
Here’s an introduction to some of these filmmakers and a few thoughts on their work and the impact of the film community. -Carolyn Kras, first place winner in the film festival’s comedy screenwriting competition. Kras won for “New Reality,” a workplace comedy about insourcing, inspired by an article she read on the situation that Disney and other companies are facing. In her screenplay, a woman finds out she’s being laid off due to insourcing, and has to train her replacement, who is from China. A romance blossoms, and the main character has to decide if she wants to sabotage her replacement or let their relationship develop.
John Diack with Denver-based Noggin Sauce Pictures has signed on as a producer of the script, and they are looking for financing and a director.
“It’s been a great experience to meet so many other filmmakers. As a writer, I love creating new characters, and it’s great, because the characters often suprrise me as I keep writing them.”
-Marc Messenger, first place winner in the festival’s science fiction screenwriting competition.Messenger won for “Pull,” a story based on his own experiences with his autistic son. The script follows an electrician who, while working in the tunnels under a city, comes across a lonely creature on whom gravity works in reverse. The pair form a bond that neither expects.
The script calls for some visual effects, so Messenger is currently working on the budgetary side of bringing the story to life and has been entering it in other festivals to meet other filmmakers.
“It’s very stimulating to meet other filmmakers, particularly other writers, because I’ve been able to exchange screenplays at get some feedback, which is so important. Plus, you get to see great movies that you otherwise wouldn’t be able to.”
-Rebecca Brillhart, co-director of short feature “Uncle Silas,” which is making it’s Colorado premiere.Brillhart has been working in the film industry for years and came across the germ of this story as a part of the Collective Theater Company in New York City, of which she is a member.
The film tells the story of Maureen, who recently had a baby, and has to deal with her brother who shows up and is addicted to opioids. Understandably, tensions ensue as Maureen tries to deal with her family, new and old.
“There was eight months of workshopping to transition from a more theatrical aspect to one for the film world. And sadly, this kind of subject has become more and more relevant. This is our last festival stop, and it’s kind of bittersweet, but it never gets tiring see the audience’s response in real time.”
-Isra Elsalihie, lead actor for short feature “The Invaders,” which is making its world premiere. A theatrical actor by trade, Elsalihie, is just getting started exploring the film world. In the film, she plays a Muslim world who is followed on her way home.
Elsalihie comes from Swedish and Iraqi roots, and said she was able to use her personal experience on the character, including speaking one of the three languages she is fluent in for the film.
“I try to bring my personal experiences into my characters, and for her, I wanted to focus on a positive thing to go after, instead of simply reacting to fear. It’s really exciting being here for the world premiere, and to see the audiences’ reaction to the film for the first time.”
-Rashel Mereness, third place winner in the film festival’s tv series screenwriting competition.Mereness’ screenplay is called “Boomtown,” and is set in a silver mining town in the 1860s. She said she was inspired to write the piece because she’s a fan of historical fiction, and she used to watch westerns with her dad.
She’s considering the future of the project, as is considering several options, including trying to get a studio to produce it and trying to get it made herself.
“It’s great to see this shift in the industry and especially at this festival, which celebrates women filmmakers.”
Film No. 3 – “Mary Goes Round” There are actors where you see their work, and wonder why they’re not among the biggest names in the business, and Aya Cash has been one of those actors for me for years, and if you have never watched her on FX’s “You’re the Worst,” you’re missing one of the most deeply layered and nuanced comedic performances on television. I’ll have more to say about her tomorrow, as she’s the festival’s Excellent in Acting Award, so stay tuned for that.
In writer/director Molly McGlynn’s debut film, “Mary Goes Round,” Cash plays the titular Mary, an addiction counsellor in Toronto who is struggling with her own alcoholism. When her estranged father calls her out of the blue to meet her half-sister, Mary returns to her hometown of Niagara Falls and quickly discovers secrets about her family that she never expected.
Shot with a poet’s eye for detail, and confidently and empathetically directed by McGlynn, this is a dream for fans of character work. As Robyn, Sara Waisglass brings a warmth that radiates from the screen, with startling eyes that communicate her every emotion. And as Lou, Melanie Nicholls-King damn near walks away with the film, bringing a wit and humanity to her character’s every expression.
But there’s no doubt that Cash is the star of the show, and she shows Mary’s flaws, sense of humor and underlying understanding without the slightest feeling of sentiment. She can break your heart with a look, and this is expert, lived-in acting, and paired with this assured filmmaking, it shows everything Cash can do.
Pay attention to McGlynn, Cash and this film. They all get under your skin.
10 p.m. – Blue Starlite CinemaDespite the seemingly unending rain, we’re in for a treat after the film wraps up. McGlynn and Cash have arrived at the theater and tell us a little about the experience of making the film and sharing it with audiences.
McGlynn explains that the movie is loosely inspired by her own relationship with her father, and that it explores the notion that people aren’t defined by their mistakes.
“In the movie, one character says ‘Good people do shitty things, and then they fix it,’” and that’s really the foundation of the film,” she said. “This is a film about fathers and daughters, and that’s something I don’t think we see enough.”
Festival program director Jacqueline Jorgeson moderated the discussion and asked about Cash’s uncanny ability to dig into characters who have messy emotional situations to deal with.
“I’m not sure if I just read as an incredibly damaged person or what,” Cash said to lots of laughter. “But flawed people are certainly more interesting.”
Cash was the actor McGlynn had in mind to play the character but didn’t expect to be able to get her interested. But, as it turns out, Cash was incredibly moved by the script, and wanted to be involved.
“Shooting indies can be really grueling, so you have to hope it’s with people you like,” she said. “I’m game to do anything if it’s with good people.”
The interplay between Cash and McGlynn is joking and warm, and it’s becomes clear “Mary Goes Round” is so good because of how well they work together. And McGlynn is already working on her next piece, though as any writer could tell you, it’s always an arduous process.
“You would think the second feature would be easier, but starting on something new, it’s like I learned literally nothing the first time,” McGlynn said to uproarious laughter. “Oh yeah, writing is terrible.”
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