Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Juno Temple & Jeremy Dozier Bring Alive "Dirty Girl"

Despite a substantial effort to integrate gays into mainstream America, anti-homosexual violence continues for those who don't conform to this country's far too conservative attitudes. Though it's hard to believe that it continues, bullying still spurs teen suicides in a country charged by tea party extremism.

So first-time director Abe Sylvia used his juvenile experiences as a gay kid growing up in 1980s Norman, Oklahoma, as a starting point for his debut feature, Dirty Girl to inform us about his efforts to escape such abuse. His comedic search for identity and the redemptive power of friendship provides a context to illustrate the effect of such repression and the will to escape it.

The "dirty girl" of Norman High School, Danielle (Juno Temple) sluts her way through high school but her misbehavior gets her banished to special ed. There she teams up with innocent but abused closet-case Clarke (Jeremy Dozier). Together they head out on an illicit road trip to escape the repression and discover themselves through their unexpected and funn friendship.

Coming from an English showbiz family -- mom is producer Amanda Temple and dad is director Julien Temple -- the younger Temple has been a schooled actress since elementary school. Relative newcomer Dozier has only done a few shorts but shares in Sylvia's experience growing up in conservative small town Texas.

Though Sylvia began his career in NYC as a Broadway hoofer working with such talents as directors Susan Stroman, Mel Brooks, and Tommy Tune, the grind took its toll and he turned to film, television and commercial work in 2001.

After graduating from UCLA's film school, Sylvia's four short films have screened in over 100 international festivals; he's also won several awards including the Jack Nicholson Distinguished Director Award, the James Bridges Prize in directing and was a finalist in the 2006 Chrysler Film Project. Through Paris Films and Christine Vachon's Killer Films, Dirty Girl did the festival circuit including Toronto FF 2010 and is now being released this October. The following Q&A is culled from a recent roundtable with Temple and Dozier.

Q: Much has changed in society since 1987 so what did you learn about the time period and what were your impressions?

JT: We had to do a lot of research on the music and stuff.

JD: I really hadn't listened to Melissa Manchester or anybody like that, and she's this icon for Clarke. So I did a lot of research and watched her YouTube videos. I found it fascinating how powerful she was on stage.

I also did lots of research on the time period, on the clothes and everything, which was a lot of fun. It was a time when being gay wasn't really talked about so I think that's changed a lot since then, thank God.

We'd walk onto set and everything would be decked out in '80s gear. It was so much fun walking into this different world.

JT: it was like walking into a new world in a puff of smoke.

Q: Did you ask your older cast members such as William H. Macy or Milla Jovovich to give you some tips or references for the '80s?

JT: Kind of. But we're a different generation to them in the movie, too. My parents were a big part of the '80s rock and roll music scene, so I know quite a lot about that part of the '80s.

So this was like a whole new part of the '80s in that we're listening to this great power ballad, music you can't help but move your body to.

JD: What was great about working with Abe [Sylvia, the director] is that he grew up in that time period and had so many references for us. Movies like The Breakfast Club and different movies for us to watch.

JT: We watched some good movies.

JD: The music plays a huge part of the movie, and he knew what songs he was going to play over which scene before we started.

JT: We were given the soundtrack before.

JD: That helped us inform the scenes and get the tone [right].

Q: You have your come-on line, which is "Are those Bugle Boy jeans?" I hadn't heard that in so long.

JD: I thought that was such a weird line. I shot the entire movie not knowing where that came from. Just last week, Abe posted the commercial on Facebook and I was like, "It all makes sense now."

Q: Any other references from the '80s that you didn't know about?

JT: There was a line that was cut out where Clarke says to Danielle, "Let's sing 'Don't Cry Out Loud,'" and I'm like, "I'm more of a White Snake girl."

That was the kind of vibe that Danielle is more into, like hair metal. The thing I loved about Danielle was that she was kind of '70s in this '80s world.

She got all her mum's hand-me-downs, so she's in these little rompers and fur coats and '70s platform heels. She looks like even more of a misfit. She doesn't get so '80s until the end, with the polo neck and the camel toe shorts.

It was interesting because also it's so Abe's world -- it's based on his childhood story. He written the bible for you in that situation because he knows it better than anybody else.[He‛s] a man you trust so dearly that he opens your eyes to this whole new world and you just become lost in it. So [we spent] a lot of time talking with Abe.

I grew up having a really vivid imagination. So when you have a director that has this incredible vision that he's just giving to you, it's like walking through the Narnia closet or something, like walking through a whole new doorway.

Even before we got on set, we did dance and singing rehearsals. We grew up going out dancing, and it's like you just wriggle a bit, you don't really have proper dance routines. So you get there and are learning how to do all these crazy moves that you haven't seen since an '80s music video.

That was so fun, taking you to a whole new part of your brain that you haven't really ever accessed before.

Q: Did you keep any of the clothes?

JT: I wanted the Laura romper that Abe actually had bought years ago for the movie and brought it in -- it was a perfect fit. It's pale beige. It was kind of Cinderella-esqe. It's the one in the campfire scene. Unfortunately it was sent to a Universal storage lot.

But it was meant to be mine. One day I'll get it back. It's very hard to find a good velour romper that suits you and fits the right areas correctly, I guarantee you.

Q: How would you describe this film's tone?

JD: This movie is like a roller coaster. There are really emotional scenes and then there are comedy scenes, so there's something for everybody. There's singing, dancing, and it deals with a lot of issues that are pertinent today.

JT: It's timeless, I think.

JD: It's a movie set in the '80s but it is so important to today, especially in today's climate. With all the gay teen suicides and all of that, learning to love yourself and coming into your own and figuring out who you are -- It's a great message movie.

JT: Yeah. It's "don't judge a book by its cover” -- that's the best thing you can tell people, because it's the worst thing you can possibly do. You miss out on so much when you just judge someone by their cover.

Q: Is it hard for you to believe that after all this time since '87, there are still these teen suicides because people are hassling others for being gay?

JD: It's crazy.

JT: It's ridiculous, to be quite honest with you. We still haven't been able to find out a way to be okay with letting people be what they want to be. I think it's part of the reason why you get angry.

But whatever happens, I think in high school there's going to be something that someone's going to get bullied about -- like the size of someone's nostrils, or whether they have a weird toenail on their big toe.

People find the weirdest stuff to destroy children's lives about. That's why I think this is such a great message, because it's really like, "look beyond that."

When you first meet Clarke and Danielle in the movie, you wouldn't picture them being best friends at all. It's this weird chemistry that just explodes. Because actually, for the first time, they meet someone [who] wants to listen to them. They meet someone who wants to be around them, someone who thinks they're so great for who they are, and to help entice that out of them.

That’s something that people should so look for in high school. If you don't get on with everybody, you don't get on with everybody -- you're not going to. But when you find the people that really get you and just love you for who you are, then everything kind of figures itself out and falls into place. I think that's such a good message to be sending.

JD: Bullying ultimately comes out of ignorance.

JT: And jealousy.

JD: I think we've made a lot of progress, but there's still a lot of progress to go.

Q: It‛s amazing how people in high school or in junior high will type each other and then suddenly a year or two later they become best friends because they have more in common.

JD: It's the message of this story too. It's so about becoming who you want to be versus what you're labeled as in high school, and that's exactly what these characters are doing over the course of the film.

JT: Life’s so much bigger than that.

For an extended version of this story and others by Brad Balfour go to:

Thursday, October 20, 2011

In Oka!, A Filmmaker Explores an Unseen, Unheard African Community

Boy, did director Lavina Currier take on a challenge. Not only did she elect to direct the film Oka! in Africa, but she made it about a people, the Bayaka, and in a country, The Central African Republic, that’s thoroughly unfamiliar with modern filmmaking.

Based on an unpublished book by an obscure author/musicologist with few veteran actors (Kris Marshall and Isaach de Bankolé) and a cast that includes the indigenous tribe playing most of the characters, the film defied conventional market strategies.

And that’s just the basic outline of this project’s unique nature.

After American musicologist Louis Sarno decided to live among a Bayaka Pygmy clan in the Central African Republic in the mid ‘80s, he wrote a book chronicling his experiences, Song From The Forest, and recorded their music. Those recordings became Bayaka: The Extraordinary Music of the BaBenzl Pygmies (Ellipsis Arts), a two-CD/book package of never-before documented material.

Though raised in New Jersey, Sarno has called the CAR his home for the past 25 years with intermittent visits the States. Oka! -- which means “listen!” in their native language -- is a dramedy that retells his tale of when he first arrived in the jungle -- based on an unpublished memoir.

Since Currier’s previous films have already taken her all over the world, she had an idea what she was getting into making Oka!. She visited Tibet in working on The Sun Behind the Clouds: Tibet's Struggle for Freedom and the Sahara for Passion in the Desert. And her philanthropic work includes environmental causes -- Oka! was filmed carbon-neutral in the Dzanga-Sangha Nature Reserve of Central Africa, a site growing in popularity with eco-tourists. In fact, for her work on behalf of Tibetan refugees, the Dalai Lama presented her with his Truth Award.

Nonetheless, as revealed in this exclusive interview, her experience didn’t entirely prepare for the singular act of shooting among the Bayaka and the dominant Bantu-speaking people who offered unique challenges to the filmmakers as well. And now that film is being released, audiences can share in the experience.

Q: Why did you make a film in an African country where there are virtually no film resources, as opposed to one say like Nigeria or South Africa?

LC: I've always loved Africa. I found this region while casting a film about Ota Benga. Do you know the story of Ota Benga?

Q: No…

LC: He was the pygmy who was brought to the World's Fair in 1905 -- a very sad story. I wrote a screenplay with a wonderful novelist [about him]. I was so proud of this screenplay; everyone who read it cried and said, "This has to be made." It was during that period of racial ignorance and horror.

[There were] many reasons I didn't make the film -- 9/11, and funding for example. There was another film made by Regis Wargnier, who did Indochine, called Man to Men, about a pygmy couple who was brought to Scotland. It took place 40 years earlier. It was kind of the missing link.

And I watched it. I had to chase it [down] in this little cinema in Paris, and found it so depressing.

I was talking to the Bayaka about the story, and they said, "That's a terrible story." I said, “Yeah, it is, but we learn from our mistakes and don't repeat history and all the things in our culture." And they said, "We would forget a story like that. There are so many nice stories."

Q: At what point did you know you had a story to tell?

LC: When we were there for Ota Benga and decided not to do Ota Benga, I went back and said to Louis [who helped with our research], “What about doing a slice of life in the village? Do you have any manuscript that you haven't used, you haven't published that we could use for that?"

And he said [he had a manuscript at his Mother’s.] We had to find this [floppy] disk. Nobody could read it, so I took it to a decrypted or whatever you call it.

Q: Backwards technology...

LC: After reading it, I laughed and said, "This is wonderful," because he gets out of the way, his character is very self-deprecating, and you really feel the life of the village and the forest.

So that's how we came to it. I wanted to do something, as a white woman telling a story about African people can…

Q: That's a whole other issue -- what a white woman has to deal with in those areas.

LC: They have so many problems with the Bantus that they like white people. They didn't go through colonialism; it's not a post-colonial culture.

Q: Even though the French were there?

LC: The Bayaka didn't. Central Africa was affected by slavery, but not by colonialism -- not in the sense that there were big plantations. It wasn't an easy place.

But when we were back there -- aside from showing the film and doing some politicking -- we also did more music recording. The composer Chris Perry, an amazing African, was married and lived in Zimbabwe for seven years -- he had been was [Zimbabwe's dictator Robert] Mugabe's boy.

His wife's father was attorney general, I think, for Mugabe, and then fell out of favor and was killed by Mugabe.

So Chris, who has an amazing facility for understanding African music, did the recording the first time. He went back with us in the forest in August, because we're doing an album for the film.

He did what he calls radio cues, but more modern kind of dance music out of the Bayaka rhythms. He had these women from the forest laying down multi-tracks. They'd never had earphones on… These women would come from the forest. They say they dreamed their songs and would say, "I dreamt this song some time ago in the forest."

One of them said, “When I woke up my husband was dreaming the same song and we were singing together."

One woman from the Congo -- she had leprosy, no toes, no fingers -- and she’s sitting there, trying to get into it, and she's hearing her voice for the first time through the headphones. The first couple of times, everyone's laughing and laughing because they're not kind and polite in that way. Then suddenly, she starts singing.

Chris said they just took to it. They would be standing in line for Chris in the morning, they got into it so much. So we've got a good album, I think.

Q: Did you videotape this?

LC: Yes we did. We did a little sort of "Return of," because we didn't do a “Making of.” It was too stressful.

We barely got through our days and the producer was constantly doing the 16-hour trek up to jungle to make sure our set wasn't going to be closed down by goons.

Q: Too bad you didn’t videotape as you shot the film.

LC: I know. I wish so, too. That was the intention of the producer, but he was so stretched he couldn't do it.

Q: You're going to have to go back -- you have that additional footage.

LC: We do, actually, which is great. It was really interesting.

Q: Did this film follow your budget or did you have cost overruns, because of all the issues paying off people?

LC: We never paid anyone off, which is why we kept getting stopped.

Q: Were you worried that if you paid one, then you'd have 50,000 hands out?

LC: Right. We made a deal with the Minister of Culture in the beginning and paid a location fee, which is normal.

The Minister of Finance came and said, “And mine?" And we said, "Well, we were told that film went through the Minister of Culture." He said "I don't know who told you that."

Q: How'd you get around that?

LC: In that case it was pretty hairy, because he was a pretty tough cookie. He's not there anymore. And he said to the producer "By the way, our bank account was messed up, so I want you to write the check to Mr. XYZ."

He had been sending his goons down, the producer was intimidated, so he wrote a check. [The producer] got a copy of it, and as he left the office he put a stop payment at the bank. The Minister of Finance himself called the teller and overrode the stop payment.

Q: So you did end up paying him?

LC: That was the only one. And other than that, we didn't.

Q: When did you know you had an ending?

LC: The ending should have been a real elephant hunt, because the molimo, this mythical instrument, is associated with the elephant hunt. You kill an elephant and the molimo is happy and it comes out.

And the elephants, after three days of chasing them around and getting them to do this and that, lost patience with us. And my crew said on the third day "We're not going back. We don't care what you pay us; we're not going back because we're going to be killed." And it was getting dangerous.

Q: Killed by the elephants?

LC: Yeah, by the elephants. And we'd been going on the good will of the elephants who had been accustomed to this researcher, this lovely woman, Andrea, who herself has been there 20 years.

Q: Elephants are incredibly intelligent.

LC: Very intelligent. And they'll stop you. They'll warn you with a couple of charges and then they'll charge.

I am fearless with animals. I never feared snakes or elephants or anything.

Q: Did you have any big cats?

LC: I never saw them. There are leopards, but I never saw them.

Q: There are jungle leopards.

LC: That was my last film, Passion in the Desert, which was about a Napoleonic soldier and a leopard.

Q: How did you contend with distribution for that one, or this one for that matter?

LC: Well, it's not a good period for this level of budget. We don't have a big name, although [British actor] Kris Marshall is coming into his own.

Q: Why did you cast him?

LC: I had been talking to a couple of bigger names who wanted essentially the budget of the picture, and I really had some doubts about whether a star would make it through.

Kris is a very physical actor, especially for an Englishman, who are [usually] very text-based, on the whole. I knew that he had that kind of British "it's a job, I'm going to do it” attitude. I mean, that man was so sick that he was lying on a bench in the forest.

Q: He's not only sick in the movie but was also in real life?

LC: He was very sick. I would say, "Kris, you can take a day off. You don't have to be here." "No. It's my job. Call me."

I had an instinct that this guy was crazy enough. He's been run over by a bus, broken every bone in his body, and had so many accidents, that I just had a feeling he would stay the course.

Q: How did you happen to pick African actor Isaach de Bankolé for the villain?

LC: He's a wonderful actor. Louis Sarno went to school with [director] Jim Jarmusch. Jim introduced me to Isaach, and Isaach was so charming when I met him in New York.

But then during the shoot -- he's a method actor -- he became this mayor [Mayor Bassoun], and everybody was terrified of him including me.

Q: And he's the nicest guy in reality.

LC: Nicest guy. But on the shoot, he was terrified until not only his last scene, but four days later. He insisted on staying on.

I said, "You can go early, Isaach, since you seem to be so unhappy," and he said, "What do you mean? I'm not leaving. I’m going to stay until my contract." And then he sort of decompressed and he became again the nicest guy.

But he became the Mayor to such an extent that he would go around in town and people would say, “Monsieur Bassoun, can you help us with this and that?" And he had everyone terrified.

The tailor said "Please, could you send somebody other than Isaach to check on his clothes?"

The real Mayor was absolutely furious and jealous. He used to come in his motorcycle, this horrible illiterate bully, and scream at me about something, and I think it was because Isaach was being considered as the mayor.

Q: I've listened to some of the pygmies' music and it was probably recorded by Louis.

LC: It's either his or [anthropologist] Colin Turnbull‛s. We put everything from traditional Bayaka music to cues from the film to these kind of radio cues, these modern dance things.

Q: Had you taken an interest in African music in general?

LC: I've always loved African music. But the Bayaka's music is considered the most ancient -- they were brought to sing for the Pharaohs. It took me awhile to understand the Bayaka music.

That's why Louis Sarno‛s Song From the Forest was so crucial. Louis was sent to Africa by Colin Turnbull whol wrote The Forest People and also wrote the book about the Ethiopian people, the Ik -- the mountain people.

And he got into incredible hot water because he dared to say the pygmies are good and the Ik are bad, and the anthropological community said, "You can't say that. You can't make those judgments.” He said, "I know. I've looked in their eyes and lived with them."

But I think that Louis has an amazing appreciation for this music. It's really complicated music.

Q: It doesn't fit normal musical structures.

LC: Not at all. They think in 28 phrases. Their cycles are huge, and most people just get lost in them -- they go, "What's happening?" It's chaotic.

They sing in the way nature sings with itself. Birds and animals wait for the empty space and jump in, and they'll do this -- though not necessarily on a regular basis.

Q: It's not like there's a harmonic layer.

LC: Right. You opportunistically jump into a silence, and the Bayaka have incorporated this into their music.

The first time I ever heard them, I was in a canoe and we were with a Bantu guy. I said, "What are those birds?" and he said "Those aren't birds. Those are the little people."

Then we saw these women walking single file, very quickly, and were singing to each other at quite a distance. Maybe for a quarter of a mile that they were actively singing. It was the most extraordinary thing, because there were these bell-like, beautiful yodeling sounds that I had never imagined.

Q: Have you learned any of the language?

LC: I did learn some rudimentary [phrases], which is not a difficult language to learn -- just to direct people, because most of our actors didn't speak French.

Q: So you went to university but when did you get involved with film?

LC: I studied a tiny bit of film at Harvard. But basically, I studied poetry with Robert Fitzgerald, and I think my major was Religion. I was in the Religion Department.

Q: At what point did you decide to go with filmmaking?

LC: I came to film through theater. I went to Paris from university and started an American theater in Paris with some friends from Harvard, which was a lot of fun. We didn’t do anything too great. French people came to learn English, basically, but we had a great time.

Q: Did you meet Africans while you were there?

LC: No, I didn't. But you know, it was a different complexion back them. On the last trip to Africa, I stopped in Leone, and Leone is a Pan-African city.

Q: One of the reasons I was fascinated by this movie, and movies about this, is that in some way it's like dealing with another world.

LC: It is another world.

Q: Like you've landed on another planet.

LC: And you feel that, and everyone feels it -- even the crew from Los Angeles -- they were in utter culture shock when they arrived there. Oh my god, and with the big Panavision camera, [it was] like moving a fire hydrant around.

Q: Did people do it because they just wanted the chance to go to Africa?

LC: People did it because Conrad Hall -- the DP that we chose, son of the famous Conrad Hall -- insisted on bringing his group. And we said, “Not a good idea, Conrad," but he said, "These guys are going to take care of the camera." And he was right, but they were in shock. They were duly warned.

Q: It's not even like going to Nigeria which has a fully realized film scene.

LC: No. This is not Abercrombie & Fitch. This is forest camping; don't think luxury. But then, after a period of time, they said, "There's something here with these people."

Everyone feels this magic. Seen from the outside, Africa is just a disaster of statistics, right? But when you go there, especially with people like the Bayaka, you feel so hopeful. You feel like you're connected to something that's ancient.

We all have this history of having come from the hunter-gatherer tradition at some level, and you feel this kind of connection. And even these guys [from] L.A. -- who would have preferred to be doing a Mercedes commercial -- they felt it too.

Q: When would they get another chance to shoot in Africa?

LC: I'm not sure they were sure they were going to get back [laughs].

Q: Were they terrified?

LC: Terrified. And we had a lot of interference from the government.

Q: Did you really?

LC: We did. A lot. These guys would come down with machine guns and stop the film.

Q: Really? It's the former French Congo, right?

LC: It was called Ubangi. It was always that little central landlocked country where the two rivers, the Ubangi and the Congo, came down. So the neighbors are Rwanda, Chad, Congo and Cameroon.

We just took the film back in August because I had promised to bring it back to show it to the Bayaka. And the first screening was in the forest.

Q: The very, very first?

LC: Yeah. The first in Africa.

Q: You screened it at the Telluride Film Festival by then. You couldn't get more contrasting.

LC: I know. It had cables, and the producer Jamie Bruce, was practically manning the sound system in the forest. It kept tipping.

All the Bayaka were there, it was only Bayaka for the first screening in the forest.

Q: But where was Sarno?

LC: He was there. It was behind his house in the forest. Of course they said it was the best film they'd ever seen; they'd never seen a film before.

Q: At least they knew to compliment you.

LC: Yes. Then we moved up the country and the last screening was with the president of CAR, [François] Bozizé, in the presidential palace. And I had brought the actors, because it's very important for them.

It was a really tremendous experience. When we screened in the capital, we did questions and answers afterwards.

And the comment we got universally was, "We're so happy to see a film where the white guy is kind of hopeless, and our little people" – they call them the little people – "our little people have to save them, they can't do anything. We're tired of having these films where all our problems are solved by some white guy coming in."

Q: Next the Chinese will make their movies and they will be saving them.

LC: Our Chinese character has been not appreciated [who also is villainous]. Not by the UN. We were supposed to have a screening there.

The French, the Lebanese, they've all been in there. So it's just a new wave. I felt the Chinese character, he could have been American, Lebanese or French, but he was Chinese. The reaction has been very strong.

Q: The scene with the bush meat that he's eating: is it implied that that was elephant meat?

LC: It was elephant. The bush meat is crucial, because for the Bayaka to survive they have to have small game to go after.

When I first went in 1999, they said they had to travel about 20-30 minutes to get food. I mean, they could hunt within 20 minutes of the village. Now they have to go a half day, sometimes a full day. Sometimes they come back empty-handed.

So the less they can depend on the forest, the more they have to depend on the Bantu, and they get paid three cigarettes and a few stalks for a day's work.

Q: Are there still diamonds there?

LC: There are a lot of diamonds.

Q: So there are potential resources.

LC: But the diamonds are so prone to corruption.

Q: You'd think that tourism would be the way.

LC: And that's the hope.

Q: Eco-tourism is the thing that can save Africa.

LC: Right.

Q: They said you were a philanthropist.

LC: The philanthropy associated with this film -- people say, "Are you giving back to the Bayaka from the film?"

Well, if the Bayaka had to wait for this film to give back [to them], the forest could be gone at that point.

Q: It might bring them some publicity.

LC: I've been active there since I first went to cast it, and I saw there was such a tremendous need for health and education for these people, as well as to protect the forest.

Q: We keep forgetting that if we strip away the rainforest, we strip away basically our ability to regenerate the ozone layer.

LC: So it's for us. But also, if we're going to have cultural diversity, these [people] are [among] the last hunter-gatherers on Earth.

You have the Bayaka, and in the equatorial forest you have other pygmy groups. You have a group in Borneo, and that's it.

Q: What about in South America? Isn't there one group that's still surviving?

LC: I guess you could still say there are some groups that are still hunter-gatherers, but the South American rainforest is being cut all around them as well.

The really crucial thing for the Bayaka is the forest, because it's really hard to imagine this particular people transitioning successfully into village or urban life.

They shouldn't have to. They should be able to have education; they should be able to have basic health care.

But what's interesting is that you're dealing with a culture which is anarchistic, non-hierarchical, non-representational -- like some of our American Indians -- and you're asking them to speak for themselves.

We're going in and we're saying, "But you guys have to be educated so you can stand up in front of the UN and express yourselves."

Well, it's not a culture that develops that at all. It's a culture that's absolutely communal, decisions are made by consensus. Just by hearing their music, you hear this. The way they opportunistically sing in this amazing kind of participatory, polyphonic way, it expresses everything about them.

Q: Where do you live now?

LC: I now live in Virginia, and I grew up in New York. I'd been living in Hawaii. I made the film from Hawaii, which was not a smart thing, but I did.

Q: And this is your fourth movie?

LC: This is my second feature.

Q: How did you find your distributor, DADA?

LC: I think our counsel knew the distributor, and we really liked what they were doing on Last Mountain -- a very powerful film about dysfunction of our government here, talking about corruption and bribery. We liked very much the way they were handling it and the style that they have of distribution.

Q: Now that you have a distributor, you're not doing the festivals anymore?

LC: No, we're not.

Q: Did you go to some other festivals?

LC: We did not go international with the film. It's a co-production with Central Africa, and they've submitted it as a contender for the Foreign Film Oscar.

Q: Would that be for this year?

LC: Yeah. First film ever that they've had, so they're very excited about that.

Q: Have you toured this film in Africa at all?

LC: Just this last trip in August. We just went to Central African Republic from the tip, where the Bayaka are, up to the capital.

Q: You've got to get it all throughout Africa.

LC: And they're very interested in that. The Minister of Culture now is a wonderful man, who's one of [the late dictator Jean-Bédel] Bokassa's sons. He's been doing some really interesting things, including reconciliations about his dad. Very enlightened fellow.

And he's taken up this film. He wants to take this film all over, because for them it shows their country in a positive light. Otherwise, with Central Africa, you hear about Bokassa and you hear about the Lords‛ Revolution Army on the northern side.

So they're excited to have something that is good news and to showcase their country. They're really motivated to take it around, so I think we will. But so far, we have only been to Central Africa.

Q: And how about yourself, traveling in Africa?

LC: I love Africa.

Q: How many other areas?

LC: I've been around. When I was a child, I was in East Africa -- Kenya and Tanzania. I've been to Central Africa quite a few times.

Q: We need movies like this. And doing it as a fiction film, that will get people more attracted than a documentary.

LC: I know. There have been so many documentaries, especially about the Bayaka.

Q: But to actually see people behaving in an acting scenario is much more interesting.

LC: And the fact that they're good actors is pretty extraordinary. That was a great surprise to me.

Q: Where do you go from here?

LC: I need to make a film locally because I have a son, I have a young 10 year old. I did take him to Africa, but being a mom and a film director is not a great combo. So I'm going to try to find something locally. I have a few scripts that I'm working on -- a trilogy that I began that I want to complete.

Q: Are you going to draw from cultures that are disenfranchised and have their problems?

LC: I would like to. There's so much happening right now that one wants to do something useful.

I would like to tell an American story for sure. There's so much happening in this country now.

Q: And these will be fiction films?

LC: Fiction, yeah. I don't feel I have a good journalistic bent.

Q: Well, the best thing for a journalistic bent is like a six year old, "Why?"

LC: Yeah. Curiosity.

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Saturday, October 15, 2011

Step Into This Incredible Doc -- Corman's World: Exploits of a Hollywood Rebel

Having grown up enjoying Roger Corman’s filmic retelling of Edgar Allen Poe’s horror tales -- many with the legendary actors Boris Karloff and Vincent Price -- his garish productions were lodged in my brain forever. This was the guy who inspired so many trendy directors -- such as Quentin Tarantino -- to go into film-making.

So when I saw Corman's World: Exploits of a Hollywood Rebel, director Alex Stapleton’s relatively short doc on the great master of indie, genre, and cult cinema, at the 2011 Sundance Film Festival earlier this year, a flood of memories returned.

Thankfully this film has gathered steam, hit the festival circuit, and has landed in this year’s New York Film Festival on its closing day -- October 16th -- with a special screening at 1:30 pm. Since Roger Corman has been in town for the NY Comic Con, hopefully he will join the director after the screening.

The following short Q&A is culled from comments made after her Sundance showing.

Q: What inspired you to make this film about this legendary Hollywood rebel?

AS: I'm a secret nerd on the inside. I grew up watching most of all these movies, and growing up in Texas, I was obsessed with Pam Grier as a nerdy, black, young woman.

So I grew up totally in love with [Corman]. Probably when I was 19, I learned he did a film called The Intruder, which is a big part of this film.

And that's when I got the idea that it was so amazing that one man could be responsible for so many types of cinema and could do a movie like that before Martin Luther King was even a household name. I just wanted to celebrate his legacy, so that's basically it.

Q: What was the movie you saw 10 years ago that changed your life?

AS: Hedwig and the Angry Inch. It was a midnight screening, and it was awesome and the energy of the crowd was awesome. I can't believe that this film got a midnight slot. And you guys were great; you laughed.

Q: A lot of great people weren't in the film. Will you include them when the DVD comes out? Why didn't they make the cut? How long would it have been if they had?

AS: Six hours.

Q: Is there anyone you regret not including?

AS: I have no regrets. I'm really happy with this film. The great thing is that when we put out a DVD, we have our work ahead of us when we get back to LA.

This will be the biggest, badass, most bitching DVD you will ever have in your entire life. There are probably going to be five DVD extra discs -- like Jack Nicholson going on and on about more stories. It will be like a galaxy.

Q: When Jaws and Star Wars were released, that was a rebirth of Hollywood cinema. In this light, those big fun movies are now the big money makers.

AS: Everyone in this movie is a graduate of Roger Corman -- except for Eli Roth, who started with James Cameron. James Cameron also started with Roger, [but] he's not a part of the story.

[Francis Ford] Coppola was as well. He made the first blockbuster with The Godfather, and then obviously we all know what James Cameron is up to today. There's a great irony that these guys came from the biggest penny pincher in the industry.

I hear all the stories of these young filmmakers who are out there making features for a hundred thousand dollars or less and working really hard and tirelessly to just go out there. They have that DIY attitude of just getting your hands dirty, using what you have access to, and making film.

There's a renaissance happening of that culture again. Hopefully, [with] a film like this, you can look and see that these guys were doing this in the 1950s.

And everything's cyclical, so hopefully you'll be making the next best thing and you'll change the system.

Q: With the popularity of superhero movies, it was surprising that you didn’t include something about Corman’s version of Fantastic Four. Was that ever part of an initial cut?

AS: It's a 90 minute movie. We leave the chronology in the early '80s. Fantastic Four was made in '92 or '94, and Roger did it for like $2 to try to keep the rights.

That was kind of the beginning, the brink of the resurrection of comic book movies in mainstream cinema. There's not enough room, not enough time.

Q: When did you make a movie for Roger?

AS: I was the second unit director on Dinoshark, I recorded sound, was an actress in the movie, and those were all things that I had to do. That was the deal that Roger made with me in order for me to go to Mexico and make that movie. I feel like I'm now a graduate of the Roger Corman School.

Q: Halfway through the movie he says he thinks it's morally wrong to make $35 million a movie, and that that kind of money would better be used to [build a city].

AS: When Roger was here at Sundance, this question came up and I agreed with his answer. Talking about a movie like Avatar, [by] one of his protégés, he doesn't mind it when there's money used towards films at that level, when it's innovative and you're using every dollar. The money is on the screen, right?

But there are all these movies that are made that have these huge budgets and it's just two people talking to each other for an hour and a half. I think that's where he draws the line; he's like, it's a waste. That quote was said in 1981, and it's coming off of the Spielberg-Lucas bonanza, so you've got to put it in context.

Q: What was his relationship with agencies and managers? Were they willing to work with him or were some agencies just not willing to work with him at all?

AS: I think they appreciated him over the course of history because great talent came out of him. I don't know if it was "fun" to work with him, because there wasn't a lot of money. I don't even think agents and managers were really in the picture for most of these films. These are kids that didn't have agents and managers when they were working for Roger.

Q: How much money will Roger make off of licensing these clips to you?

AS: Roger really likes me, so he gave me the rights. Well, this is a fair use documentary, first of all. Second of all, with the clips that he owns, he agreed to let me use all of his films for free. So I'm very honored and blessed that we got that opportunity.

Q: Earlier in the film somebody said nobody really knew what Roger did after the shooting was over, what kept him occupied and what he liked to do. Is he still a mystery once the shooting is over, and on a personal level, what gets him excited?

AS: What gets Roger excited is being able to get a deal, like Paradise Village. He gets really animated. He's an engineer; that's what he studied. He has that kind of a brain, so figuring out really hard problems gets him really, really excited.

He still is very mysterious even to me. I've been working on this for five years and I still don't understand the boiling inferno completely. But I like that; I think it's a little interesting.

Sometimes the point of a movie like this is not to really explain it, because who knows? It's all in Roger's head. I was more fascinated with the extreme difference between his conservative nature, [and being] a Stanford grad.

Q: Does Corman have any regrets about not being more [vocal] about social issues?

AS: I don't think that Roger cares. Roger is a walking legend. He's a mascot for independent cinema, and that what's more important for him is to stay in business and be his own boss, which is like the great American tradition.

I mean, that was me -- I aspired to. So I think that comes with a price, and the film shows you that he went down that way to maintain his independence, and I think he got what he wanted.

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Friday, October 14, 2011

Actor Jason Momoa Brings Conan the Barbarian's Sword to NY Comic Con

Conan The Barbarian will be among the many personalities attending this weekend's New York Comic Con at the Javits Center. Well, not exactly, but the 6' 4" Jason Momoa, who played the sword-slashing Cimmerian in the recent reboot of the series that came out this summer will be there -- though maybe not with blade in hand.

When the massive Momoa stepped into Planet Hollywood a couple of months ago to leave his big ol‛ paw-prints and fighting sword there, he could have been any big brute with a cowboy hat on. But once it was doffed and he flung around his locks, the former Hawaiian clearly displayed why he was picked for Conan.

Add in a resume that includes playing Khal Drogo, a powerful warlord from George RR Martins' Game of Thrones or fighter Ronan Dex from Stargate Atlantis, and Momoa certainly has the right creds to handle such an iconic character as Robert E. Howard's Conan. And if you make it to Javits on this Sunday at 10 am where he will appear on a panel with co-stars Rose McGowan and Stephen Lang, you can see and hear him in all his rippling glory.

Q: This movie could have easily been cheesy, but it doesn't come close to that. What did you do to make sure it didn't go that way?

JM: I wouldn't want to be a part of it if it did. I didn't want it to have that campiness to it.

When I was a little kid, I would read Robert E. Howard and look at a Frank Frazetta painting and they would reach out to me. I wanted to take the character and rip it right off the canvas and put it up on the big screen.

It deserved to have the grittiness and the dirtiness. [Director] Marcus Nispel [Texas Chainsaw Massacre] was fantastic about it. I thought he did a really good job at making that world.

Q: It's great that he is an actual barbarian, not the typical hero...

JM: That's the fun thing about Conan. He eats, he drinks, he's a thief, he's a pirate. The fun thing about him is he's not the saving-the-damsel-in-distress [type]. It's not very PC, and I think that's what Marcus didn't want.

He should be this barbarian towards a woman, in a sense. But what's beautiful about it is you see the vulnerable side, and he gets saved by a woman in the heat of the moment where he was supposed to kill.

So you get to slowly warm up to him. I think that's nice to have a little bit of humanity to the character, a sense of humor, that makes him relatable.

Q: Actor Stephen Lang -- who plays the evil Khylar Zim -- said that he stabbed himself in the ass at one point with a sword. Do you have any similar stories?

JM: I've got all kinds of horror stories. I almost died on a horse a couple of times. I broke my nose. I wanted to make it look like he was more barbaric, so I had a buddy punch me in the nose.

Q: They have makeup for that, too.

JM: Yeah, I didn't think about that.

Q: So you're all into it.

JM: Yeah, Conan should have a broken nose. He should always have a broken nose, I think -- a constant flow of blood coming out of his body somewhere.

Q: When you were getting ready to play Conan the Barbarian, was there a different workout regimen in getting ready for the type of fighting that you‛d be doing?

JM: Yeah, we did a lot of Bushido, basically a samurai training. I wanted to incorporate that Asian gracefulness to this barbaric character; I wanted to do the sword work.

But as far as working out, we did like six hours a day, stunt work and stunt training, and it was how to fall and lift heavy, heavy weights.

Q: A lot of the fighting looks like a dance.

JM: Yeah, absolutely, choreography. It absolutely is a dance and I think that's one of the great things about Conan: he speaks through his movement and his action. That's why I wanted to do all my stunts, because he speaks through that.

I studied a lot of lions and panthers, and I wanted to be able to move like a feral cat. When I read those stories about him, he just comes across as that nimble product of his environment, kind of king of his own jungle thing.

Q: Were there any stunts you wanted to do that they wouldn't let you?

JM: No, because by the time it was the ones I had to do, I was so broken [in] I was like "Dude, you've got this one. Take it. Take it, please."

Q: What was the most difficult, the most challenging thing to get through?

JM: Trying to keep injury at bay. Like I said, there's a flow of blood coming out of your body at all times. For five months, you're always injured. It's just to be able to stretch and keep that motor running for that.

Q: Did you have any fears of living up to Arnold Schwarzenegger's Conan?

JM: Not at all. I think Arnold did a really great job. It's kind of like comparing Sean Connery and Daniel Craig. They're both amazing Bonds. Arnold's Arnold, and I didn't play anything like him and he really can't play anything like me, so it's two different perspectives, really.

Q: What's your thoughts on the romantic side of Conan?

JM: It was really fun. It's nice to see that side of him. I think, as a character, he's such a brute force that it's nice to go there, to see that softer side of him.

We weren't sure how to do it, because when we did Game of Thrones, it was so raw and passionate and at the very beginning it's raping and very barbaric. I felt it probably wouldn't be in the best interest to be doing that in this new Conan.

Q: Did you get to read all the books, the comics and all that stuff?

JM: Not all of them. I had six weeks to get ready. So aside from doing six hours of training every day, I did read a lot of source material, but I couldn't get through all of it.

Of all the comic books, I went to Dark Horse the most because that's what they tried to emulate, really, for the costumes and look of the world, I think Dark Horse was the closest.

Q: Of all the characters you've played, who would you like to meet?

JM: Drogo [the warlord] and Conan are great. I'd follow them into battle anywhere.

Q: With your characters on Stargate Atlantis like Ronan Dex and Game of Thrones, do you gravitate towards these warrior types or is that just something because you're 6'4" and huge?

JM: When I did Stargate Atlantis, I wanted to work and it was a great opportunity, four years of working on that.

I think when Drogo came along, that's a once in a lifetime chance to play anything like that. I've never seen a character like him in the movies or on TV. He's such a powerful, raw character. That role was the first time I've ever wanted a character in my life.

Because of that, the same casting director came on Conan so everything just kind of lined up that way.

I don't know, we'll see. Hopefully there's a rom-com in there somewhere coming up.

Q: Will it be tough for you to adjust to the cushy lifestyle if you end up doing a romantic comedy or something?

JM: Oh no. I look forward to it. I'm doing a job right now where I'm wearing a suit and playing a villain. I get to shoot people with a gun; it's so much easier. It's like , "Bam -- dead." It's so much better.

Q: Now you're now officially cemented in Planet Hollywood history. How does that feel?

JM: Really, really cool. Really cool! It's a trip. I'm working with [Sylvester] Stallone right now, so you walk in and this is his place!

Q: And you get to see him hanging naked from the ceiling.

JM: Is that what that is? What movie was it?

Q: Demolition Man.

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