Five Questions With... Finn O'Hara, Director of I LOVE YOUR F*CKING NAME

In the short documentary I LOVE YOUR F*CKING NAME, people discuss the trials and joys they have experienced because of their unusual or famous names.

We spoke with director Finn O'Hara about the film and what's in a name. Read more, and see the film in shorts block "It's All True," playing Thursday, June 21 at 9am!

FINN O'HARA

FINN O'HARA

NFF: How did you find all of the subjects? 

FINN: I started with a Craigslist ad as I wanted the casting process to be an unexpected exercise. I thought that if people saw the ad, or heard about it, they’d be drawn into the conversation I was looking to have about the complex relationship they had with their given name. If it piqued their interest, I knew I’d have an engaged participant.

NFF: Can you talk a little about your inspiration, and/or why you wanted to share these stories? 

FINN: Growing up in the rural country meant that my super Irish name marked me as being different. I didn’t want to be different, and I just wanted to fit in. I always had to explain my name, and I stored up a handful of responses to the same questions about my name that would help diffuse the attention my name brought me. I was shy, and didn’t like the attention that my name brought to me in social situations. I hated my name, and tried my best to hide it. But it was in University, in another town, that my name was actually well received. Random people would actually come up to me and say “Hey, I love your fucking name”, and it really took me by surprise. At that time in my life, I began to discover who I was and began to like myself. My name actually helped mark me as being different and it made me who I am.

So fast forward to a few years back when I realized that many people have gone though the same paths as me with their names, and I saw it as a way to explore how people grow with what they have, and love who they are.

NFF: Have you struggled at all with your own name? Or do you f*ing love your name?

FINN: See above! And oh yes, I love my fucking name.

NFF: Any particular challenges or surprises that came up during shooting?

FINN: We were really surprised by the level of sincerity and openness that our subjects gave me during their interview. It was the first time I had met all of them, and our conversations were candid and inspiring. 

Oh, and that Peter Pan actually dressed as Peter Pan for Halloween. That kept us in stitches for a while.

NFF: Why are you excited to screen in Nantucket, and/or what do you hope Nantucket audiences might relate to or takeaway from the film?

FINN: I’m hoping that the Nantucket audiences take away from my film the fact that most of us share a common journey about personal acceptance and our unique space in the world. Some just have a steeper pitch to climb along that journey, and we can all learn through this film’s light hearted, empathetic conversation.

Oh, and if you’re going to have kids, spend a bit of time before you name your child. Say the whole name out loud, ask your friends, Google it. Do your homework and dodge a lifetime of regret.

Five Questions With... Donal Lardner Ward, Writer/Director of WE ONLY KNOW SO MUCH

WE ONLY KNOW SO MUCH reveals the emotional life of four generations of the Copeland family. As Jean (Jeanne Tripplehorn) reckons with the consequences of an affair, her husband, Gordon (Damian Young), worries he’s falling prey to the same dementia that has afflicted his father, Theodore (Loudon Wainwright III). Their children, Otis (Noah Schnapp, Stranger Things) and Priscilla (Taylor Rose), navigate the pitfalls of first love and young adulthood, while the family’s 95-year-old matriarch, Vivian (Virginia Robinson), struggles to maintain control of the household in this comedic drama.

Read more with writer/director Donal Lardner Ward below, and join us for the WORLD PREMIERE of WE ONLY KNOW SO MUCH on Thurs, June 21 at 3:30pm and Sat, June 23 at 4:15pm!

DONAL LARDNER WARD

DONAL LARDNER WARD

NFF: Can you talk a little about your inspiration for the film? 

DONAL: I was looking for something that could be shot on a micro budget, in a contained way, when I read my old friend, Betsy Crane’s, debut novel about a multigenerational family spinning out in different directions, in search of something they feared they’d lost or might never gain. I feel that sort of self-centered fear is endemic and destructive in contemporary life and I wanted to explore it. I also knew an increasing number of people who were dealing with taking care of elderly, sick parents and young children at the same time. What they call the “sandwich generation.” It’s a growing phenomenon, with people living longer and having kids later, and I hadn’t seen it addressed very much. By the time we finished the film I was living it. 

NFF:  The film depicts many different permutations and variations of love. What's your definition?

DONAL: Love is the particle that charges the atom of humanity, the connective tissue that gives our species dimension, shape, insulation against the chill of the great void. Without love, in all its forms, we drift apart, dissipate into nothingness.

NFF: How did Jeanne Tripplehorn become attached to the project? Had you worked together before?

DONAL: I met Jeanne through our mutual friend, Ben Stiller, many years ago. When I showed him the script for the film he thought she might be right for it. That was an understatement. 

NFF: Did you face any particular challenges or surprises while filming?

DONAL: We faced the age-old, dual challenge of independent filmmaking: lack of funds and time. There were a couple of things we missed in our lightning fast, 15-day schedule. However, by the time we organized reshoots at the beautiful old house that was our primary location, it had been sold and leveled, reduced to a pile of brown dirt. We had to recreate a section of the exterior on a shoestring. The enthusiastic commitment of our amazing cast and crew made the impossible possible. 

NFF: Why are you excited to screen in Nantucket, and/or what do you hope Nantucket audiences might relate to or takeaway from the film?

DONAL: I’m excited about screening at Nantucket because it’s a literary festival, a place where audiences appreciate thoughtful storytelling. The film is based on a novel, and books, and the concept of story, are central elements. I hope people come away from the film with a refreshed appreciation for the people and love they have in their lives. 

Five Questions With... Jeremiah Zagar, Director of WE THE ANIMALS

Adapted from the magical realist novel by Justin Torres, this Sundance award-winning film depicts three inseparable brothers growing up in a volatile household. Jeremiah Zagar brings the audience into intimate proximity with the boys, who watch, without always comprehending, the troubled relationship between their parents (Raúl Castillo, Sheila Vand), and, in their own ways, emulate them. The perspective of the youngest son, Jonah (Evan Rosado), who recognizes that he is different from his brothers, takes center stage in this poetic and impressionist coming-of-age story of self-discovery.

Read more with director Jeremiah Zagar below, and see WE THE ANIMALS on Wed, June 20 at 8:30pm and/or Thurs, June 21 at 5:30pm!

JEREMIAH ZAGAR photo credit Mike Kamber

JEREMIAH ZAGAR
photo credit Mike Kamber

NFF: Can you talk a little about the challenge in adapting a book to film?

Jeremiah: After I read the book and Justin Torres said yes to having me adapt it for the screen, I brought on my friend Daniel Kitrosser, whom I’ve known since High School, to co-write the script as he had a very similar sexual experience in his upbringing to the young man in the book. Our starting point was the two of us sitting there and translating the novel directly to the screen. After participating in the Sundance Labs program, we realized there’s much more work to do. We remained as true as possible to the book, but we had to change certain things for it to work cinematically such as having the story take place over the course of one year instead of many years so the audience could have a deeper emotional connection with the characters.

NFF: How did you come to the idea of using animation?

Jeremiah: We needed to get into the interior mind of the young main character, Jonah, so at first, we just had shots of the still drawings on the page. After watching the first cut of the film, it became clear that it wasn’t enough to see these drawings laying flat on the screen. With my background being in animation and using it in my previous films, it was a go-to that made complete sense to me. Everyone involved loved the idea so we went with it.

NFF: How did you find your remarkable child actors, and what was it like building a family with them on set?

Jeremiah: We had an incredible Grassroots Casting Director Marlena Skrobe. We worked with her previously, as she was actually an intern at Public Record, the production company Jeremy Yaches and I are partners in.  Marlena went around the city and saw around one thousand kids for the film. But not only did we have to find three incredible actors, but three incredible actors that felt like brothers. I’d say finding them was less of a challenge and more of a miracle.

Once we found our cast, it was all about creating an environment on and off set where they could feel like they lived together. That was important to us as it created a beautiful bond between the actors that is intangible yet still present when watching the movie.

NFF: Did you face any challenges or surprises while filming?

Jeremiah: Everything was a challenge and a surprise.

NFF: Why are you excited to screen in Nantucket, and/or what do you hope Nantucket audiences might relate to or takeaway from the film?

Jeremiah: I hear Nantucket is a beautiful place and I wish I could be there with you.

Five Questions With... Don Hardy, Director/Producer/Editor/Cinematographer of PICK OF THE LITTER

In PICK OF THE LITTER, Phil, Primrose, Potomac, Patriot, and Poppet are all in the running for a vitally important, life-changing job, but they’ll have to make it through intense training first. These five adorable puppies from the same litter are candidates to become guide dogs for the blind. Dana Nachman and Don Hardy follow them from birth through training to see which dogs have what it takes to be paired with one of the 500 applicants seeking their assistance, including Janet, waiting for her fourth dog, and Ron, waiting for his first. 

We spoke with Director/Producer/Editor/Cinematographer Don Hardy about all things puppies - read more with Don, and then bring your family to see PICK OF THE LITTER on Wed, June 20 at 1pm and/or Thurs, June 21 at 10am! 

DON HARDY

DON HARDY

NFF: How did you find/come to this story and meet the puppies? 

DON: My filmmaking partner Dana Nachman and I had known about organization Guide Dogs for the Blind for many years. We'd done a few stories on them during our time at the NBC affiliate in San Francisco in the early 2000s and always thought they would make for a good documentary. Years later, after we'd left television and made a few documentaries, the idea of doing something on guide dogs resurfaced and we thought it would be great to focus the film on a single litter of puppies. The nice folks from Guide Dogs for the Blind liked the concept and trusted us to as filmmakers so then we waited for the right moment to begin filming. Our litter was born on June 2nd, 2015. Poppet, Patriot, Primrose, Potomac and Phil.

NFF: Did you become attached to these dogs (and trainers/owners) during filming, or were you able to remain objective? 

DON: Definitely. We knew the dogs very well and they knew us. It's always a challenge to remain objective with your characters (human or canine) in documentaries, but I think we did a good job of following the stories as they unfolded and those twists and turns are seen in the film. It's a real roller-coaster ride. 

NFF: Are you still in touch with all of the owners (and dogs)?

DON: Yep. We're still in touch with everybody and many of the dogs and people featured in the film have come out to screenings help us share the story with audiences. Lots of other guide dogs in training have come out to see the film as well. It's great fun to see a theater full of dogs enjoying PICK OF THE LITTER.

NFF: Did filming/working with animals present any particular challenges you weren't anticipating?

DON: Yeah...a ton of them. The biggest challenge was keeping up with the dogs during the final weeks of training. They move quickly down the street and we had to develop a camera-rig that would allow us to move side-by-side with them and not impede their training process. 

NFF: Why are you excited to screen in Nantucket, and/or what do you hope Nantucket audiences might relate to or takeaway from the film?

DON: I've always heard great things about the Nantucket Film Festival and this is the first time I've had a film I directed selected to be part of the lineup. 

I hope audiences learn a bit more about these amazing dogs and the intense training they go through in order to take on the job of working with a person who is blind. Also, these days we are bombarded with negativity and it can feel hopeless at times. If audiences can sit back and enjoy this story of kindness and, in some small way, have their faith in the goodness of people restored for at least a couple hours I'll be happy.

Five Questions With... Risa Mickenberg, Alysia Reiner, and David Alan Basche, Writer and Actor/Producers of EGG

In EGG, two former art school friends, Karen (Christina Hendricks, Mad Men) and Tina (Alysia Reiner, Orange Is the New Black) reunite in Marianna Palka’s satirical chamber piece exploring motherhood, personal freedom, and social expectations. Karen, eight months pregnant and married to a successful developer, took a different life path than Tina, a conceptual artist recently engaged to her partner. Emotions run high when Tina reveals her latest project—surrogate parenthood as performance art—and things get even more tense when her surrogate arrives.

We had a group conversation with some of the creatives on EGG - Risa Mickenberg (screenwriter), Alysia Reiner, and David Alan Basche (Actor/Producers) all came together to share their thoughts on the film. Read more with them below, and see it on Friday 6/22 at 8:45pm and/or Sun 6/24 at 5:45pm!

NFF: Can you talk a little about your inspiration for the film, and for Alysia and David, why you wanted to get involved?

RISA: Writing this film was a way to air things that had not been said about some of our deepest thoughts and instincts. It was a way to take risks.

ALYSIA: David and I did a workshop of the script years ago, and we never stopped thinking about it. To quote a recent review in The Hollywood Reporter, the film “explodes cliches about motherhood, marriage and career...laced with unblinkered truths about the sometimes ruthless, sometimes warm-hearted ways that women see themselves and each other.” 

DAVID: We bumped into Risa again and realized it had never been made, and we felt compelled to be the ones to tell the story on film.

NFF: Alysia and David - you're married in real life, but although you share a lot of screentime, you play spouses of other people in this movie. Was that a decision you came to as a collective production team?

ALYSIA: We were cast that way in the original reading and loved these roles so much we had no desire to change it!

DAVID: Agreed, but strangely enough, now that we’ve made the film, there’s a part of me that would love to play “Wayne” because that’s such a great role, too!

NFF: Is it easier or harder to work with actors/partners you love and know well?

ALYSIA: Easier! We've worked together a lot before. In our early 20's when we did our first play together we fought like cats and dogs, but now we have good healthy boundaries - something neither of our characters in the film have learned!

DAVID: We were both producing and playing leads in the film, so with that amount of work and responsibility, we really needed that extra sense of safety and comfort that comes with a trusted creative partner.

NFF: Did working on the movie change your view of parenthood in any way?

ALYSIA: When I first read this script I was not yet a mother, and not 100% sure I was ready to be one.  Exploring the character at that time made me go deep about IF and WHY I truly wanted to be a parent, and what it means to be a parent and an artist at the same time. Now, making the film as a mother, as both producer and actress I was deeply devoted to exploring and advocating choice for women, and love and acceptance for all choices in parenthood - including choosing not to have children. I also feel the film is so much about friendship and loving and supporting your friends, even when their choices are different from yours.

DAVID: Similarly, I wasn’t a dad when I first read EGG, but it moved me nonetheless. Working on the film now that I am a father opened my eyes to the different things people go through and the ways families can be constructed. In the end, it's all about allowing other people the integrity of their own choices.

NFF: Why are you excited to screen in Nantucket, and/or what do you hope Nantucket audiences might relate to or takeaway from the film?

RISA: This film is like Nantucket’s relationship to the rest of the world. Such beauty on the surface, with such dangerous shifting sands below, so daring to navigate. The film is powered by a leviathan of a theme with indelible characters who are not afraid to go way out into unexplored and dangerous waters. I hope people appreciate the daring of thought. I hope they feel something has been let loose in their conversation and that it leaves them feeling raw and fired up and powerful and alive.

ALYSIA: The first time I was at the Nantucket Film Festival, I felt like I was just dreaming of really being in this business. I saw so many films, loved them all, and met Paul Giamatti at the screening of AMERICAN SPLENDOR which I thought was outrageously brilliant. I made a wish to someday work with Paul and someday be at the festival with a film I was in. Well, a year later I got to act with Paul in SIDEWAYS, and here we are at the festival with EGG! Both dreams came true!!! So yes, I am beyond thrilled to share EGG with the NFF audiences.

As for take away, of course I want to entertain people, for them to laugh at themselves and the moments of recognition in the film. But more deeply, I hope it makes people explore their own complexities and contradictions. I love when people say they can’t stop thinking and talking about the film weeks later. Another review I loved said it all: “This film is wonderful for the way it takes you into yourself and exposes you to your own contradictions and emotions…” To me that's what great entertainment is about, it makes me laugh, think and feel.

DAVID: What she said!

Five Questions With... Jesse Peretz, Director of JULIET, NAKED

Annie (Rose Byrne) is in a rut. Her long-term boyfriend, Duncan (Chris O’Dowd), is more devoted to the music of faded singer-songwriter Tucker Crowe (Ethan Hawke) than he is to their relationship. When an unreleased demo of Tucker’s acclaimed 25-year-old album surfaces—prompting the reclusive artist's own reemergence—Annie and Duncan’s routine existence is upended in unpredictable ways. Based on the best-selling novel by Nick Hornby, JULIET, NAKED is an insightful and charming romantic comedy.

We spoke with JULIET, NAKED director Jesse Peretz about the film. Read more with him below, and see the film on Thurs, June 21 at 1pm and/or Fri, June 22 at 3:34pm!

JESSE PERETZ

JESSE PERETZ

NFF: Can you talk about your inspiration for the film (visual or story-wise)?

Jesse: It is hard to be entering into the world of film adaptations of Nick Hornby novels without siting ABOUT A BOY and HIGH FIDELITY as key references. Both are movies I adore.  But I would also say that a key part of my life that I kept coming back to while we were developing this project was my days in the late ‘80s and beginning of the ‘90s when I was the bassist of the band The Lemonheads, and lived a life pretty ensconced in the pre-Nirvana punk/indie music scene.  This was the world that our character Tucker Crowe lived in back in his mythologized past, and so exploring those memories were key to defining who he was.

NFF: Which music artists or musical forms are you personally obsessed with?

Jesse: My musical obsessions over the years have bounced around between ‘60s soul (I remember being given a Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrellalbum in 1977 that was spinning non-stop on my turntable for a year), Be Bop Jazz and Punk Rock.  In particular I would say that Elvis Costelloand Big Star are probably the artists I have clocked the most hours in my life consuming and re-consuming.  This is music that never gets old to me.

NFF: How did you decide or collaborate on the way the music in the film should sound

Jesse: Obviously for this film the music was of extra importance in the shaping of the film and the story, as who Tucker Crowe is/was as a musical figure is central to the story.  My friend (and musical collaborator on almost of my projects) Nathan Larson and I have a deep history of shared loved music (and being in bands that toured together), so we (along with our brilliant music supervisor, Maggie Philips) listened to a lot of music from the period and styles we thought Tucker Crowe would have lived and worked in, and narrowed in on what we found most compelling directions to follow.  But then we included a number of song writers in the process by putting out an appeal for original songs with these influences in mind, and saw what kind of songs came back.  We used the ones that we felt best served the vibe we were looking for - and of course the ones we liked the most.  Then Nathan and Ethan Hawke went and spent a bunch of days in the studio recording them, and putting their own spin and inspiration into the session.  It was a very exciting process, but also filled with dead ends that were often filled with frustration.

NFF: Did you face any challenges or surprises while filming?

Jesse: We shot the entire film in England (even though a bit of it takes place in New York State), and it was a shock for me to learn how strict the English were about sticking to a 10 hour day - something almost unheard of in the US.  I couldn’t imagine how we could responsibly go into each day knowing we would get what we need in those hours, but to my surprise it was not only completely doable (with a few exceptions) but also created a working environment that was mentally so much more focused, civil and calm.  People came to work having had a good night’s sleep and a life since we wrapped the afternoon before.

NFF: Why are you excited to screen in Nantucket, and/or what do you hope Nantucket audiences might relate to or takeaway from the film?

Jesse: I am very excited to bring the film to the audience in Nantucket.  I hope that people connect with what I believe are universal themes of second chances and the struggles to conquer our fears we have failed the ones who need us most.  Mostly I hope that people find it both entertaining and emotionally honest.

Five Questions With... Charlene deGuzman, Actor/Writer of UNLOVABLE

After a night of alcohol-fueled sex with strangers, actress Joy (Charlene deGuzman) hits rock bottom and attends a 12-step meeting for sex and love addiction. There, she convinces Maddie (Melissa Leo) to be her sponsor. Maddie allows Joy to recover in her grandmother’s guesthouse, but sets strict rules, including forbidding her from interacting with Jim (John Hawkes), Maddie’s estranged brother and their grandmother’s caregiver. But Joy and Jim each end up being just what the other needs to heal in this fresh dramatic comedy.

We spoke with Charlene deGuzman, who both wrote and stars in UNLOVABLE. Read more with Charlene below, and catch the film on Wed, June 20 at 8:15pm and/or Thurs, June 21 at 8:45pm!

CHARLENE DEGUZMAN

CHARLENE DEGUZMAN

NFF: Can you talk a little about your inspiration for the film?

Charlene: UNLOVABLE is inspired by my personal experiences with sex and love addiction and recovery. I wanted to bring awareness to sex and love addiction, help get rid of the stigma, show a female perspective, and help people feel understood and less alone. And I wanted to do it in a way that uses light, hope, comedy, and music.

NFF: Have you acted in pieces that you've written before? Do you prefer to be in your own work?

Charlene: This is my first feature film I've ever written or acted in, but I've acted in other pieces I've written before - I wrote a few shorts that went viral on YouTube, "I Forgot My Phone" was the one that got the most international attention! It changed my life. I love performing my own work, it's how I can be the most ME. There is no one better to express your own voice than yourself. Plus, I like to write things from my own personal experiences, and the only one who has lived my life - is me.

NFF: How did Mark and Jay Duplass become involved with the film? Had you worked with Mark before as a writer?

Charlene: In 2013, Mark Duplass started following me on Twitter. I sent him a DM telling him that he was my hero. He DM'd me back and told me that if there was anything I had written that I wanted to show him, to send it over. (Tweeting sad and funny thoughts and ramblings is what originally got me a following.) I didn't have anything at the time, but a year later, I started recovery for sex and love addiction. While in my first months of withdrawal, I was in physical and emotional pain, and the thing that kept me going was exploring my creativity. I ended up writing a TV pilot in five days inspired by my own experiences. I sent it to Mark, and the next day he wrote back - he wanted to meet, and he wanted to make a movie!

NFF: Did you face any particular challenges or surprises while filming?

Charlene: So many! I had major Imposter Syndrome - every day I couldn't believe that it was happening, and I kept thinking I had tricked everyone into being there. It was hard to act in scenes with John Hawkes or Melissa Leo and not think, "How am I in a movie with my favorite actor John Hawkes?" or "Oh my God this is Academy Award-winner Melissa Leo." As you could imagine, the pressure to not completely make a fool out of myself in front of these pros was high. I ended up learning so much from the both of them. It was also intense to act out scenes that would have happened in my past. I got triggered a few times. But every time I took a deep breath and remembered why I wanted to make this film, how I wanted to help people, it kept me going.

NFF: Why are you excited to screen in Nantucket, and/or what do you hope Nantucket audiences might relate to or takeaway from the film?

Charlene:This is my first time in Nantucket so I'm excited to be there! I hope I inspire others to tell their story. We all have a story to tell, we may even feel ashamed of it at first, or embarrassed, or scared it won't be good enough. But the truth is, telling your story gets rid of the shame. Because you will find that your story is a huge gift you have, because it can help so many people. Humans crave the truth, and they don't even realize it, until they experience it. I hope my movie and story will inspire others to share their truths too!

#NFF17 Films in Awards Season

It's here again - awards season! You may have noticed a few of your favorite films from #NFF17 (as well as NFF alums and upcoming NFF Now films)  making the rounds. Kicking things off on January 11 were the Cinema Eye Honors, last Sunday, February 17th were the BAFTAs, the Film Independent Spirit Awards are coming up on March 3, and the 90th Academy Awards are the following day on March 4. Take a look below at the nominees and winners so far, and cheer on your favorite #NFF17 films next weekend!

THE BIG SICK

THE BIG SICK

Cinema Eye Honors (Outstanding Achievements in Documentary Film):

Nominee: Outstanding Achievement in Editing
Lindsay Utz for QUEST

Nominee: Outstanding Achievement in Nonfiction Films Made for Television
THE KEEPERS


BAFTAs (British Academy Film Awards)

Nominee: Outstanding British Film and Adapted Screenplay
THE DEATH OF STALIN (March NFF Now film)

Nominee: Documentary
CITY OF GHOSTS
AN INCONVENIENT SEQUEL


 Film Independent Spirit Awards:

Nominee: Best First Feature
MENASHE
PATTI CAKE$

WINNER: INGRID GOES WEST

Nominee: Best First Screenplay
David Branson Smith and Matt Spicer for INGRID GOES WEST
WINNER: Emily V. Gordon and Kumail Nanjani for
THE BIG SICK

Nominee: Best Male Lead
Harris Dickinson for BEACH RATS

Nominee: Best Documentary
MOTHERLAND
QUEST


Nominee: Best Supporting Female
Holly Hunter for THE BIG SICK
Lois Smith for MARJORIE PRIME

Nominee: Best Cinematography
Hélène Louvart for BEACH RATS

WINNER: JEEP TRUER THAN FICTION AWARD
QUEST


Academy Awards:

Nominee: Writing, Original Screenplay
Emily V. Gordon and Kumail Nanjani for THE BIG SICK

Nominee: Short Film, Animated
Dave Mullins and Dana Murray for LOU

Dispatch From Sundance 2018

Once again, the #NFF Team headed to Sundance to check out this year's top offerings in independent film. Read more below about some of their favorites, and keep an eye out for these titles potentially coming to #NFF18!

20180122_182336.jpg

MYSTELLE BRABBÉE, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR:

THREE IDENTICAL STRANGERS is a festival and personal favorite documentary about triplets born in New York and given away to separate families to be raised without awareness of one another.  By pure chance they are brought together 19 years later and become instant media stars. The wild plot unravels further when we go on the journey about why they were separated at birth.  

WON’T YOU BE MY NEIGHBOR explores the history and legacy of America’s favorite neighbor, Mister Fred Rogers.  Academy Award-winning filmmaker Morgan Neville (NFF Alum, 20 FEET FROM STARDOM) has said he wants to show that Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood still has lessons for today. Watching the Sundance premiere, I found myself remembering the characters, songs and most importantly the lessons.  I only wish current and future generations could have Mister Rogers as their neighbor too.

More of a colorful celebration of Robin Williams’ extraordinary career than it is a lament of his loss, director Marina Zenovich weaves together rare footage with the late comedian’s own voice for ROBIN WILLIAMS: COME INSIDE MY MIND.  This loving documentary fills in more of the blanks to the general storyline of Williams’ life and also offers priceless outtakes showing his unique train of thought and how he was always reaching for some beautiful moment of ridiculousness and truth. 

BASIL TSIOKOS, FILM PROGRAM DIRECTOR:

Among the standout documentaries at this year’s Sundance is MINDING THE GAP by director Bing Liu and executive producer Steve James, a previous recipient of NFF’s Special Achievement in Documentary Storytelling and now an Oscar nominee for ABACUS: SMALL ENOUGH TO JAIL. MINDING THE GAP has been likened to BOYHOOD in its look at the lives of three skateboarding friends followed over several years as they grow up dealing with issues with their fathers and domestic abuse.

The inventive, magical realist doc 306 HOLLYWOOD by Elan and Jonathan Bogarín was one of Sundance's Day One screenings. The sibling filmmaking team constructs an utterly charming, irresistible portrait of their late grandmother, largely through the eclectic belongings found in her longtime New Jersey home at the film’s titular address.

AMERICAN ANIMALS similarly offered Sundance viewers a fresh perspective. Writer/director Bart Layton, known for the documentary THE IMPOSTER, makes his fiction debut with this true story of four young men who attempt to steal valuable rare books from their local university library. The film weaves in interviews with the real-life subjects - and their conflicting memories of the event - as a counterpoint to the dramatic retelling featuring actors like Evan Peters and Barry Keoghan.

COLETTE, among several films to score distribution deals at the festival, presents the empowering and all-too-topical story of the celebrated French woman novelist, played by Keira Knightley, as she finds her voice and fights for recognition under the shadow of her husband who takes credit for her words. This sumptuous period piece is the most recent film from writer/director Wash Westmoreland, whose previous film, STILL ALICE, earned Julianne Moore an Oscar for Best Actress.

OPAL H. BENNETT, ASSOCIATE PROGRAMMER:

In OUR NEW PRESIDENT, Maxim Pozdorovkin uses found footage of Russian propaganda edited to maximum "cautionary tale" effect, painting a broad picture of the deft efficiency of manipulative messaging. A sequence in which the supposed ill-health of then-candidate Hilary Clinton is "reported" on Russia Today as news, only to be repeated by people on the streets of Moscow as fact bears eerie resemblance to some of the media-sponsored fallacies reported in US news outlets. Pozdorovkin skillfully walks a tight rope in this film - using the footage both to illustrate and to indict - and won a Special Jury Award for Editing at Sundance.

Lauren Greenfield's doc GENERATION WEALTH picks up where her last feature, THE QUEEN OF VERSAILLES, left off - investigating the culture of success/excess in America. While surveying her life's work, Greenfield explores where her area of focus - the perils of extremes - dovetails with her own life. Putting its thesis aside, I found myself more drawn to the portions where Greenfield is vulnerable in revealing her personal journey as the daughter of an ambitious mother, and, in turn, as an ambitious mother and wife to her own family. 

Flynn McGarry has been called the "Justin Bieber of food," rising from precocious elementary schooler to internationally-recognized culinary talent, as beautifully chronicled in Cameron Yates' documentary CHEF FLYNN. His portrait combines archival material from when he began hosting multiple-course meals for friends at 10 years old with current footage of his breakthrough as a teen chef gracing the cover of the New York Times Magazine. Along the way, we see the challenges Flynn has faced both in the kitchen and at home. Flynn's story is an inspiring one where talent and passion combine and yield unforgettable results.

In SHIRKERS, Sandi Tan weaves a tale of youthful talent, precocious passions, DIY filmmaking, mentor sabotage, and a decades-long mystery solved. Tan was a teenager growing up in Singapore and obsessed with independent film. Under the tutelage of a mysterious mentor, she filmed her original script, SHIRKERS over several months, only to see it vanish. Part-memoir, part-mystery, SHIRKERS takes viewers on Tan's journey to becoming an artist and overcoming obstacles, and won a Directing Award at Sundance.

In CRIME + PUNISHMENT, Stephen Maing employs brilliant verité and provides unparalleled access to the NYPD 12 - a group of whistle-blowing cops who expose the ongoing, illegal practice of arrest/citation quotas being carried out by police across New York City precincts. Putting their careers and even their safety on the line, these officers demonstrate how they were coerced into engaging in this activity, and, when they dared to push back, were targeted for systematic retribution. CRIME + PUNISHMENT won a Special Jury Award for Social Impact Filmmaking at the festival.

Five Questions With... Rory Kennedy, Director of TAKE EVERY WAVE: THE LIFE OF LAIRD HAMILTON

If you missed #NFF17 documentary TAKE EVERY WAVE: THE LIFE OF LAIRD HAMILTON, you're in luck - it opens in theaters this weekend!

In this breathtaking portrait, acclaimed documentary filmmaker Rory Kennedy (Last Days in Vietnam, NFF 2014) takes on the legendary Laird Hamilton (Riding Giants, NFF 2004), a maverick who has redefined big wave surfing over the past four decades. This visually resplendent film follows the movie-star handsome Hamilton in Hawaii, as he eagerly awaits El Niño-powered waves of an unprecedented size, prompting reflection on his lifelong drive to conquer unrideable waves. Buoyed by the memories of family and friends, the charismatic surfer relates the struggles of his early life, the refuge he found in the ocean, and the fearlessness that has served as a constant source of innovation—and controversy—in his career.

Read more with Rory below, and check out local screening opportunities near you!

Rory Kennedy at #NFF17

Rory Kennedy at #NFF17

NFF: How did you first become acquainted with and interested in Laird's life and story?

Rory: I was introduced to Laird through a mutual friend who thought throwing two people together who wouldn't normally know each other might be interesting. Although I didn't know much about surfing before, I grew up on the water and have an appreciation for the water, and I grew up with surf and ski movies - and we were surrounded by sports figures - making a film about an athlete in the water was not totally an unfamiliar idea.

NFF: The film is tonally a bit different from others you've made in the past, and focuses on a single subject rather than, for example, a larger group. Was that conscious departure for you as a filmmaker?

Rory: I'm equally passionate about whatever sparks my interest. You commit over a year of your life to the making of a film, so it's hard to work on a subject you don't care about. It took a little while to wrap my head around this particular story and give myself permission to make a "fun" film - but I couldn't let the idea go. I wasn't interested in a typical surf film - I was interested in Laird and his story and his motivations; what he's accomplished on the water and how he's revolutionized the sport. I was curious to explore what makes a person the best they can be.

NFF: Shooting in and around water is notoriously challenging. Can you talk a little about that process making this film?

Rory: It of course presents a new set of challenges - how do you know when the wave is coming, for example. It took some time to understand how waves work and how best to shoot them. I watched a lot of surf films, and I do ski, so I know you can be on the steepest run and it looks flat in pictures, so there's something about the angle of shooting that shapes how it looks. In our case shooting by helicopter was the best way to keep up with Laird.

NFF: What surprised you the most while you were making the film?

Rory: I think I didn't fully appreciate Laird's childhood and what he went through when he was younger. I now have a deeper appreciation for his focus and passion - his personal journey is extraordinary.

NFF: What do you hope audiences will take away from seeing the film?

Rory: I just hope people actually go to the theaters! You need to appreciate the awe and enormousness of the waves on a big screen - we made the film for that experience, so please support the film in theaters, and enjoy the ride and thrill in watching it that doesn't translate to a tv or computer screen. Check out our website for screening times and locations

take every wave: the life of laird hamilton

take every wave: the life of laird hamilton