Premiering at a major festival like Sundance goes hand-in-hand with filmmakers having their first opportunities to discuss their creative intentions on a public stage. In dialogue with tweeting audiences and journalists, their amplified words add meaningful context to the viewing experience and to the digital record.
Additional context is especially enriching for the immersive Hale County This Morning, this Evening, which the The New York Times described as a “beguiling and elliptical documentary about everyday life in Alabama’s Black Belt.” Interviewing filmmaker RaMell Ross for the LA Times, Tre’vell Anderson asked if there is a “message” he wants viewers to take away.
There is “100% not a message,” Ross responded. “My goal is to create an experience of the historic South, the experience of the centrality of the black experience, the experience of Quincy and Daniel’s [his subjects] lives. Let that experience meet [the audience] where they are in their life and then hopefully change the trajectory of the way that they experience black people in the future. That’s something that happens internally. It’s something that happens cerebrally, and it’s not something that is Anglocentric.”
Ross spoke more to his intentions for Hale County, a Cinereach grant-supported film, and how still photography fed his artistic approach, with Democracy Now:
When discussing their intentions for Cinereach production MATANGI / MAYA / M.I.A., it emerged that subject Maya Arulpragasam and director Steve Loveridge had different (though not necessarily contradictory) hopes at the outset of the project. When Loveridge, a close friend of Arulpragasam’s since art school, began making a film about her life and career, she first gave him hours of performance footage, expecting music to be the narrative through-line. Over years, Loveridge asked for more and more tapes, digging deep into the massive personal archive Arulpragasam had amassed (as an aspiring filmmaker herself). He also filmed scenes of her every-day life beginning in 2012.
Arulpragasam says the film contains more personal material—footage of her youth, family life, and scenes from her creative and professional trajectory—than she would have chosen if she’d had creative control. Still, she tells Variety, she appreciates that the film might validate how she has portrayed her roots, since her authenticity has been challenged throughout her career. Loveridge says the never-before-seen material he included was “a revelation” when he saw it. “Maya is associated with chaos and controversy,” he explains, “but actually the work is so thematically consistent that I was pleased to be able to link everything up.”
The authenticity of the performances in Night Comes On, a Cinereach grant-supported film, might largely be attributed to the relationship between director Jordana Spiro and star Dominique Fishback, who were on the same creative page early on. The two met when they acted in scenes together on the set of the USA show Royal Pains before Spiro cast Fishback as Angel, a young girl who is released from juvenile detention with a dangerous mission on her mind in Night Comes On. For a role where much is communicated in few words, that connection was essential.
“I [played] a 16-year-old pregnant girl about to deliver her baby,” remembers Fishback, and low and behold, Jordana was the actress who delivered the baby…” Asked what drew her to Angel as her first feature film role, Fishback tells Cheddar, “as actresses, we dream of the opportunity to play a character and stretch ourselves, and Angel is a character who doesn’t talk a lot. Everything is all in her mind. So to have the opportunity to just sit and think and have the power of my thoughts translate on film… I was so happy for the opportunity to be able to do it.” In the below clip, Spiro also talks about her own creative process, developing the story and script with co-writer Angelica Nwandu.
— Cheddar🧀 (@cheddar) January 29, 2018
When filmmaker Cody Lucich arrived to join the protest at Standing Rock, he began making short videos of the stories unfolding around him. His videos gained millions of views online and rallied support behind the movement. Lucich was at first reluctant to consider making a feature film, sacrificing the immediacy and reach of shorter pieces released in a more timely way. In a video interview for Deadline, Lucich explains how he changed his mind and came around to the idea of making the Cinereach grant-supported film Akicita: The Battle of Standing Rock.
As he spent time at the Standing Rock camp, says Lucich, he noticed he was one of very few native filmmakers on site. “There were at least 50 non-native filmmakers. There were cameras everywhere. I just started to realize that there was a big responsibility to tell the story from our perspective… I finally came to the conclusion that perhaps the movie that comes out a year and a half later will be just as important or more important than those little clips that I would have released.”
More on what it was like to document the historic movement that arose at Standing Rock here:
On a journey far more individual in nature, Sandi Tan unearths the personal history that both shook and launched her creative foundations in her feature documentary Shirkers, made in association with Cinereach. The film reincarnates Tan’s fiercely artistic teenage self and the filmmaking project that meant everything to her and her friends—especially when it went missing. The film’s color-rich visuals come mostly from the lost-then-found reels of the original Shirkers, yet it’s impossible to imagine the film without the dazzling array of writing and collaged material that punctuates it, setting up what creative expression meant to the young Sandi. Interviewed by Filmmaker Magazine, Tan explains:
“I was forced to be a packrat because such an intense part of my youth was sucked into a void with the disappearance of Shirkers… I kept almost all of the mail I got for Exploding Cat, the zine I ran when I was 16… Also, back in the pre-Internet, I wrote an insane amount of letters and postcards—sometimes two a day to the same friend… constituting an ongoing real-time diary of the whirling, frenzied off-kilter triple-axels that were going on in my teenage head… I am eternally grateful Livejournal or Facebook did not exist when I was a teen or my entire being would have been scattered into meaningless electronic shards, never to be made real again.”
Jumping from a story of a young girl obsessed with participating in culture to one of a contemporary culture transformed by its obsessions, Lauren Greenfield premiered the feature documentary component of her career retrospective project Generation Wealth (which accompanies an exhibition and a book). From the photographer and filmmaker’s point of view, it’s critical that audiences approach the project with the understanding that while it centers around wealth, “it’s not about the rich or the one percent.” Rather, audiences should expect an exploration of the forms of currency that hold value in an increasingly consumerist society, “materialism, celebrity, and narcissism” which, Greenfield says, have displaced the concepts of “hard work, frugality and discretion” that once characterized “the American Dream.”
Generation Wealth received Cinereach grant support through the Cinereach Project at Sundance Institute. In this video about the photo exhibition, Lauren explains more thoughts behind the comprehensive work:
Leaping to cinematic life from its origins as a novel by Justin Torres, Jeremiah Zagar’s We the Animals, a Cinereach production, was intended more as a “translation” than an adaptation, Zagar told Deadline. Unfolding like a series of resurfacing memories, and steeped in a poetic spirit, We the Animals shows us scenes in the life of a young boy and his loving but volatile family, as his selfhood emerges and clashes with his brothers’.
Leading into the festival, the We the Animals team put together one of the most original “meet the artist” videos we’ve ever seen, providing a window into the layers of imagination, preparation, and visualization (including artist Hugo Costa’s stunning location drawings and storyboards) at the root of the filmmaking. Though it’s not on public display, the floor-to-ceiling wall of imagery Zagar amassed in a conference room at the offices of his production company, Public Record, was a work of art itself.
Three brothers grow apart in We the Animals, and three strangers intersect in Monsters and Men, a Cinereach grant-supported project, as their independent lives orbit the same police shooting of an unarmed black man in New York City. Interviewed for Filmmaker Magazine, cinematographer Patrick Scola shed light on how the film’s three protagonists’ perspectives were unified into a powerfully connected story world, while barely interacting with each other.
“If the shooting is the rock in the pond, the movie is really about the ripples,” explains Scola. “The film is told in three acts, through the eyes of three individuals in the community. Each “ripple” is slightly further away from the center. Photographically, I wanted to use the idea of proximity to the event to define the language of the camera. For the characters closest to the event, the lenses are wider, and the camera is closer, the world is a bit more raw, rough and tumble. As the film moves forward and we follow characters who are steps removed from the actual shooting itself, the lensing changes subtly, getting slightly longer, shots become more composed. The life of the camera becomes less noticeable. As the ripples get further away, they become calmer, and ultimately disappear.”
Hear from writer-director Reinaldo Marcus Green on the origins of the story itself:
In addition to commenting on their intentions as creators, the festival’s meta-commentary sometimes yields filmmaker reactions to audience reactions. Boots Riley’s Sorry to Bother You, co-financed by Cinereach, is the madcap-yet-dead-serious story of a gifted telemarketer who gains access to a macabre universe he can’t un-see. It is layered with so many visual and verbal ideas that it requires multiple viewings to catch them all. Used to performing as a musician, the theatrical screening of his work was a novel experience for Riley.
“It was nerve-wracking,” he tells Screendaily. “When I perform I can read a crowd and figure out how I want to bring it the way I want to bring it. I might change up the set. When you’re live you can edit it. With film you can’t. You’re sitting there like you’re tied up and people are doing stuff to you.” Riley told Filmmaker Magazine that the audience reactions were great to hear, except when the laughter meant they couldn’t hear words important to his intentions. “For instance, where Danny Glover says, ‘I’m not talking about ‘Will Smith white.’ That’s not even white, that’s just proper.’ When he said, ‘I’m not talking about ‘Will Smith white,’ the crowd burst out in laughter. And they didn’t even hear, ‘That’s not even white, that’s just proper.’ So Jada Pinkett Smith is in the audience and it sounded more like a diss… So I hope if she reads this, she understands.”
Riley and his key cast discuss their filmmaking experience for the record in this video for Indiewire:
Click through this photo gallery for the visual mementos of conversations we hope will reverberate after the festival chatter fades.