We were excited to sit down with Paul Serafini, who has one of the most ‘Nantucket-filled’ films in this year’s program with his feature debut, ANNABELLE HOOPER AND THE GHOSTS OF NANTUCKET. This family friendly adventure features both Bailee Madison (who’s also a producer on the film) as Annabelle, and several of Nantucket’s most iconic locations. We spoke with Paul in advance of the film’s World Premiere at the Festival!
NFF: Annabelle Hooper and the Ghosts of Nantucket is your feature debut. What was it like to work on a film with such an amazing location?
Paul Serafini: I came up with the idea for the storyline a few years ago while doing a ghost tour with my then 10-year-old daughter. Nantucket was where my movie education began in the Dreamland when I was very young. I went every night in the 70’s and 80’s and saw all the iconic films from then--like Jaws and Star Wars. When I came up with the idea I thought “why don’t I shoot my first feature there?” We wrote the script around locations that already existed, so we didn’t have to spend a lot on building sets. So many told me to shoot a few days on Nantucket and double it elsewhere but I wouldn’t. The entire movie was set there and couldn’t be duplicated anywhere. As a result the film looks more expensive than it was.
NFF: You’re also a producer on the film, along with Bailee Madison. Talk about the development process (from when it was a script) and what it was like to work with Bailee both as your lead and a production collaborator.
PS: As I mentioned, I came up with the concept “Nancy Drew meets the Goonies” kind of mashup. Once I had that and an outline, I partnered with a screenwriter for a first draft. And it was two or three years to get it from good to great; it had to be great or there was no reason to make it. After that we got Stefne Miller (our screenwriter) involved to polish the script, add story elements and age it up (Annabelle was 12, but when we shot, Bailee was nearly 16.).
As to working with Bailee, I can’t say enough. I’ve never met a more down-to-earth kid. The crazy industry she works in can cause one to get lost, but boy she is so mature and has a wonderful family that keeps her grounded. She only wants to be involved in wholesome and creative projects. I wanted Annabelle Hooper to be a girl for younger girls to look up to and be inspired by, and that’s right in line with Bailee’s creative outlook. It was Bailee’s first time producing. She went out there know she was starting out and was keen to learn, but was also unafraid to speak her mind (as you must!). I don’t think there was a suggestion she made that I didn’t take.
NFF: Were there any particular challenges to shooting on an Island; how did the Nantucket spirit contribute to your set?
PS: One thing that was paramount to our production, this being a low-budget film there weren’t going to be bells and whistles in comforts, but the environment people worked in would be happy; there’d be no drama allowed. Period. I wanted everyone to have a great experience. Making movies is hard and we do it because we love it, and there’s no reason it can’t be a good experience for all no matter your position on the film. In terms of the island, they couldn’t have been more accommodating. When we got there, two big productions had already filmed, so the Islanders were perhaps weary, but I’d begun building relationships years ago with locals and when we finally got funding those relationships were in tact.
I wanted to showcase Nantucket’s iconic sights: the Whaling museum, Dreamland, the Sankaty Lighthouse, the First Congregational Church and of course the Athenium Library. Not that Nantucket needs any help in tourism, but the film was kind of a ‘love letter’ to the Island. That’s how Basil [Tsiokos; NFF’s Film Program Manager] referred to it when we were invited. I’ve never thought of it like that, but it fits!
NFF: Can you recount any favorite memories you have from your time working on Nantucket?
PS: Oh boy! I don’t want to give the cliche “every day was memorable,” answer, but truly, every day there was something special to experience. I remember a lot of laughter and smiles. The people involved with the movie did it because they thought it was something worthwhile. Working on a set like this, away from home on an island, it’s like summer camp. You’re thrust into this family environment, which we became. Bar none, Nantucket is one of the most special places in the world and it’s why I wanted to shoot my first film there. Maybe this movie is my way of giving back to the Island all the wonderful memories it gave me.
NFF: Please tell our audience why they should come see Annabelle Hooper and the Ghosts of Nantucket at NFF?
PS: I think the movie has something for everyone. It will appeal to younger audiences and parents will enjoy it with their kids. And it touches on a lot of universally important themes. It looks beautiful. If you like Nantucket, you’ll get a kick out of seeing all the locations. It has scares, mystery, romance and will take you back to your childhood. And I’ll be there, Bailee will be there and several of the actors, production team and crew will be there. We used local actors and crew, so locals can see their neighbors on screen!
ANNABELLE HOOPER & THE GHOSTS OF NANUCKET plays the Nantucket Film Festival Saturday, June 25 and Sunday, June 26. Stefnee Miller, Paul Serafini and Bailee Madison will be in attendance for both screenings.
Journalist and documentarian, Irene Taylor Brodsky, turns a sensitive lens on an incendiary topic--juvenile criminal justice--in her latest documentary BEWARE THE SLENDERMAN. BTS chronicles the 2014 case of a pair of 12-year-old Wisconsin girls who attempted to murder their friend to appease the Slenderman, an Internet bogeyman they were convinced would otherwise harm their families. Brodsky is this year’s recipient of the Adrienne Shelly Foundation Excellence in Filmmaking Award. We recently spoke with her about this true crime drama that continues to unfold.
NFF: You have a background as both a documentarian and a journalist. As a true crime, this is a topic that likely pulled on your skills from both disciplines. Can you speak to the difference in telling a nonfiction story versus reporting on a crime?
Irene Taylor Brodsky: Well when you’re reporting you know you’ll be processing information quickly and publishing towards a deadline. When making a documentary you can take the time to watch things unfold, make a decision and handle things carefully. You can develop trust with your subjects and they can tell you things you don’t have to share right then. You can sit on things and not have to share them with the public. So I knew things before the public knew and didn’t have to reveal it. It’s key because you can get information and research things as a journalist, but you rarely get the time that a documentarian has to sit with the information and analyze it. It’s nice because you can develop an understanding of your subjects and not be an emissary to the public. Now this doesn’t make you an advocate for your subjects, but it is a benefit to be able to have time with the information you’re uncovering.
In this story, we were following a legal case and knew things would come out in the case, but I was able to talk with the parents about mental illness [with Morgan Geyser’s parents] before it was discussed in the case or publicly. It was clear once the outside world knew, even their understanding of their own daughter’s mental illness would change. My film has a first person perspective before everyone got a chance to chime in. This film is not looking at guilt or innocence but whether to be tried as an adult for an adult crime.
NFF: At a surface glance BTS may seem to be a film about the perils of online engagement, but you’re actually looking at very specific stories in Anissa and Morgan. It raises questions of mental health and teenagers’ specific vulnerability to influence. Talk about the challenges of covering such issues.
ITB: You know I think the documentary is both for parents and non-parents alike. It does address the horribly modern challenges we face raising kids in the age of the internet. ‘Horribly modern’ because we’ve already had TV, books, and recently films, but the internet is different. The internet is such an echo chamber, and you can always find someone to root on questionable behaviour.
As to the difficulty of addressing mental illness, the film is about brain development, that’s actually where the film initiated. It was born out of a lofty idea which we were unsure of how to tackle; and then this event happened and we saw it as the perfect vehicle to discuss the issues we’d intended to cover. This crime happened a couple of days after Morgan turned 12, so her and Anissa’s love affair with Slenderman happened when they were just 12; juveniles, whose brain development was still very much in flux. Juvenile justice is also at the heart of this story--that somehow children should be held to a different standard than adults.
NFF: You were able to speak with the girls’ parents about the worst day of their lives, and what is an ongoing nightmare. Talk about how you went about laying the groundwork of trust to enable such candor from them.
ITB: Well I never approached them physically or directly in court. I sent them letters and films I had done. I kept my letters brief because I didn’t know what the film would be at that point. My message was, “Don’t let me tell you to trust me; here’s my work.” As I mentioned earlier, unlike journalists who are working under deadline, I could tell them that what they would tell me wasn’t going to be made public immediately; I think that was helpful. I also reached out to their lawyers and sent the same messages. One family said it impressed them that the last film I’d done was “Grief Camp” (about a summer camp for children who were grieving for lost parents). It’d just won an Emmy for Best Kid’s Program and it helped that I had brought a different subject to light which showed how kids are not mini adults. Ultimately you’d have to ask them why they trusted me. I couldn’t have foreseen whether or not my approach would work.
NFF: What do you hope audiences will take away from screening BEWARE THE SLENDERMAN?
ITB: That this isn’t just a titillating story of childhood criminal activity. The film forces us to confront how we deal with the internet and it’s something we have to reckon with vis a viz our children. It’s a true crime story, but not a “who done it?” It’s a “why done it?” The legal posture of the case is not to ascertain guilt, but the level of the legal culpability that’s going to be ascribed.
NFF: Why should audiences come to see BEWARE THE SLENDERMAN at the Nantucket Film Festival?
ITB: I think it’s a confounding look at the internet universe, rooted in a very tragic story that maybe they can take something away from. You can dabble in theories about the role the internet plays in our lives, but this is a disturbing cautionary tale. Hopefully this event will be an enigmatic blip and not a heralding of things to come. As I said earlier, the internet is here and it’s a huge part of our lives and has a huge impact on our lives. We need to have manifold considerations--legally, morally, pragmatically--around its perils. And it has a great soundtrack!
BEWARE THE SLENDERMAN plays the Nantucket Film Festival tonight at 6:45pm. Irene is also a part of today's Morning Coffee With... at 9am, with Robert Greene, Barbara Kopple and Roger Ross Williams.
Every year the Adrienne Shelly Foundation and the Nantucket Film Festival recognize a promising female feature filmmaker with the Adrienne Shelly Foundation Excellence in Filmmaking Award. The awardee receives a $5,000 grant in honor and remembrance of writer, director and actor, Adrienne Shelly and her contributions to film.
This year's recipient is IRENE TAYLOR BRODSKY, director of the feature documentary, BEWARE THE SLENDERMAN.
Irene is an Oscar-nominated, Emmy and Peabody Award-winning filmmaker whose documentaries have shown theatrically, at film festivals and on television worldwide. Her first feature film, Hear and Now, a documentary memoir about her deaf parents, won the Audience Award at Sundance Film Festival in 2007, and went on to win numerous Jury and Audience awards around the world, a 2008 Peabody Award, and a nomination for Documentary of the Year by the Producer’s Guild of America.
Irene’s most recent feature film, BEWARE THE SLENDERMAN, is a haunting exploration of an Internet Bogeyman and two 12-year-old girls who attempted to kill for him. BEWARE THE SLENDERMAN will air on HBO in 2016.
Irene has also worked as a journalist with CBS News Sunday Morning, and for 10 years worked as a Himalayan mountain guide. She is graduate of New York University and Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism. She founded the production company Vermilion Films in 2006.
BEWARE THE SLENDERMAN plays the Nantucket Film Festival on June 22 and 23. Irene will be in attendance at both screenings.
Writer/Director Maris Curran’s feature directorial debut is sure to be one of the year’s best-received films. Her moving portrait of loss and braving a broken heart to find solace through connection will linger with you. We recently caught up with Maris in advance of her bringing FIVE NIGHTS IN MAINE to the Nantucket Film Fest.
NFF: In preparing to speak with you, I revisited my initial impressions of your film. I remember being pleased by the unexpected casting; being impressed by the expansive space you created in a fairly discrete set, and being super pleased I was watching the work of a female director. What are the impressions you hope audiences will take away from watching your film?
MC: All the things you said are very important to me. When I think about the audience and what they take away it’s about the emotional content; about slowing down and creating room to feel. I want the audience to go on an emotional journey with the lead. Each person will have their own experience with the film, but hopefully they’ll leave talking about their own parallel experiences. To have the film start conversations among its viewers would be the best takeaway.
NFF: The characters of Sherwin and Lucinda needed to be able to sustain a particular kind of chemistry. David [who’s also a producer of the film] was already attached when casting began, but how did you go about find his right partner in Dianne Wiest?
MC: It’s interesting, when you’re casting a two-hander, you’re always paying attention to chemistry. Their dynamic was important. They didn’t meet until they were on-set, since having friction between the characters was important. Dianne is so deep and nuanced; we know her from comedy, but she also possesses a depth I wanted to push into. Even she was surprised by her performance and asked me “how did you know this was in me?” There was magic in having the actors come into film almost like the characters. As to casting Dianne, I was looking for, a woman over 65 who could play complicated, emotional and acerbic, and someone who would play that fearlessly and that person was Dianne. She was very excited to take on the role.
NFF: While this film is not autobiographical, you’ve said it was written from a very personal place. What were some of the benefits and challenges in mining creative work from that place?
MC: I think that’s how I work as a director. When you’re working in emotional terrain--I make earnest, empathetic cinema--the shorthand you can use to establish where the characters are is to share emotional experiences. Even before shooting, when doing scene work and talking with my collaborators, I would share where the script was coming from (i.e., a vulnerable place) and my collaborators would also share in kind. It creates a real investment in the work. As far as challenges from working in such a personal manner the challenge involves your taking a risk and I’m not afraid of risk-taking in my work.
NFF: Maine is very much a 4th character in the film. Talk about your decision to set the film there.
MC: I grew up in the beginning of North Philly in an artistic and diverse area. Every summer growing up we’d spend time in Maine with family. It impressed upon me from a young age the fact that there are different Americas. Maine is a place you could imagine the lead (Sherwin) finding solace, but it’s also a conservative area, so you could see him feeling alien. Maine is also a place we don’t often get to see on-screen and I wanted to feature its unique geography.
NFF: In your own words, why should people come to see Five Nights in Maine at Nantucket Film Festival?
MC: It’s an emotionally-resonant film and a film for adults. The audience is given a glimpse at the inner-lives of these characters, and it’s a film about sinking into yourself and your feelings, and I think we can all use that in the summer!
Five Nights in Maine plays the Nantucket Film Festival on June 22nd and 25th. Maris will be in attendance at both screenings.
Documentary filmmaker and Nantucket resident, John Stanton, has crafted an important film on a topic of great importance to Nantucket Island: the declining bay scallop fishery. His short documentary THE LAST BAY SCALLOP? possess the question about the future of Nantucket’s scallops to viewers and to those in a position to affect change. We recently spoke with him about making the film and what he hopes to impress on viewers.
NFF: You’ve said you like to make and tell ‘stories about communities.’ The Last Bay Scallop tells the story of a community very close to home. What did you learn during the process that you didn’t know before?
John Stanton: It’s not so much about what you learn--I know all the people and the problem--it’s more about finding that crossroad when a local culture may be lost due to lack of environmental concern. There are problems in the harbor which people are working on and the film address some of the changes in the Nantucket community. I make films about local cultures that seem to be slipping away.
NFF: Detail your production process from development to final edit.
JS: There was a story I wanted to tell and I knew where it was happening and the people involved. The biggest thing in my favor was Carl Sjolund, who’s personally carried the film. I knew he would be both informative and entertaining on-screen. For my process, I start with a chat and a notebook and I get a feel for what people want to say. Then I start developing a loose script, look for funding, and recruit my team. Andrew Cromadie, my DP, was local talent I got. And I usually work with a 2- or 3-man crew to keep people who speak to me comfortable. I cut the film myself, and from conception to final cut, it was about 6 to 7 months. The story was right here, so it went pretty quickly. I guess, thinking about it, a study on the loss of eelgrass over the last decade was the impetus for the film. I was at that meeting when the results were released and shortly after that I began talking to both fishermen and scientists about the problems in the harbor and with the scallop fishery.
NFF: You don’t shy away from the politics of the issue, but conclude the film on a hopeful note. What, ideally, will audiences take away from screening The Last Bay Scallop?
JS: I kept it to 30 minutes because I want there to be audience discussions afterwards. I think nothing is more powerful than watching a film with neighbors and immediately afterwards talking with your neighbors. You hope people will be opened to the issues of what is happening with the harbor and what needs to be done. We made a 10-minute version in advance of a Nantucket Town Meeting to help raise the issue. In the end I like to tell stories about how to be in the world, and being a commercial fisherman, a scalloper, is one of those ways.
NFF: Talk about some of the characteristics specific to bay scallop fisheries and why carefully-considered conservation is key to their survival.
JS: Well [the issue facing] bay scallops is like the canary in the coalmine; ecologically, the harbor catch has been decreasing steadily over 10 years. The joke was, if you can get a job, you can always scallop. That’s changed as people can make more money in construction. The life cycle of a scallop is dependent on eel grass which has declined. A study came out which inspired me; it reported that we’d lost 50% of eelgrass in the past 10 years, and this loss has come from harbor pollution. That pollution has increased nitrogen levels, and algae, which kill eelgrass, thrive in nitrogen-rich environments.
NFF: In your own words, why should people come to see The Last Bay Scallop at Nantucket Film Festival?
JS: I would like the film to reach out to both islanders and folks who only recently came to this island, to both summer folks and the people who travel here specifically for the film festival. I would like for those audiences to be reminded of this moment of local culture that still exists in this changing world we live in.
Clay Tweel's (Finders Keepers, NFF2015) hit documentary from the 2016 Sundance Film Festival goes inside the life of Steve Gleason, the former New Orleans Saints defensive back who, at the age of 34, was diagnosed with ALS and given a life expectancy of two to five years. Weeks later, Gleason found out his wife, Michel, was expecting their first child. A video journal that began as a gift for his unborn son expands to chronicle Steve’s determination to get his relationships in order, build a foundation to provide other ALS patients with purpose, and adapt to his declining physical condition—utilizing medical technologies that offer the means to live as fully as possible.
Click below for the latest inspirational look at this powerful documentary.
Next up is the creative team behind ALL THIS PANIC, a feature documentary that’s as impactful in its visual depiction as it is in its storytelling. Director Jenny Gage, and Cinematographer, Thomas Betterton have crafted a portrait of the inner lives of teenage girls that you won’t soon forget. We chatted with Jenny and Thomas about the making of their feature documentary debut.
NFF: This film is a marvel. At first glance, the photography is in narrative style, but the direction is traditional verité. The look of the film is one of its standout elements. As your DP is also your husband, talk about your collaboration in envisioning and executing the look of the film.
Jenny: The look was very important and carried a large part of the meaning. We wanted a documentary that felt real and present, but had a rare quality and beauty. You can use beauty to teach about a time in a girl’s life when things are beautiful and nuanced. We think (and they might agree) they’re the stars of their own films in real life, and in the film, they show us their magic.
Thomas: The big thing was as Jenny says: respect the interior life of the girls and the expansiveness of the potential of life you feel at that age. We wanted the audience to feel it. I used traditional narrative shooting style in lensing and camera style from shot to shot. Also the consistency of sticking with one style over the years anchored the feeling of reality. Much to the editor’s frustration, I refused to shoot b-roll, so he had to treat each scene as a narrative construction.
NFF: How did you cast your seven subjects who you follow in the film? Did you know where you wanted to find them from the beginning and how did you determine the final grouping we’d see in the final cut?
J: We initially started following the two sisters, Ginger and Dusty, and we were committed to filming their circle of friends. We never went out to “cast” anyone. Both Ginger and Dusty weren’t that comfortable at the beginning, especially since Tom had a short lens and was sitting just feet away from them, but we spent the most time with them, and they became more comfortable as the years went by.
T: Over the length of time we followed them, they grew up in front of the camera, and you see that in ways both physical and emotional, but you also see it in their on-screen comfort.
NFF: Once you began following the selected girls, did you finish with the same group you’d started with or were there losses/additions? And talk about how you developed such an intimate rapport with the girls.
J: Olivia, who’s in the final cut, was, for about 9 months, almost a loss from the film. Once we’d nearly finished, she’d gone off to college, freaked out and said “I don’t think I can be in a film” and she asked us to take her out almost entirely. We kept listening and told her that we understood how hard it might be to share that candor with family and friends. We said we were going to make the film we intended and told her she was an important part of it. Once we were done, we showed her the final edit and she was like “I’m in. Actually, do you want to shoot more?”! But every girl, throughout the process, had an “oh shit...people will actually see this movie” moment, hers was just the biggest.
T: Overall there were 10 or 12 people we filmed. Most of the people that didn’t make it were busy with school at the time.
J: Ginger had two besties in High School (Lena and Nico) and Nico went to Europe for college, but it was too hard to follow her there. We hope to add her in clips, but we had to make hard decisions about editing as we didn’t want to make a 2 hour film.
NFF: What did you set out to convey or uncover with this documentay? Do you feel like you surpassed your own expectations?
J: I really wanted to hear what girls were thinking about and doing at that time in their lives. For me, I remember it happened so quickly and I had no time to reflect. I could see the circle of life. I felt like I learned how important and complex girls’ friendships are. They build who you are as a woman. The girls said they didn’t want the film to be about gossip (like the Jersey Shore) and it never turned into that.
T: It was an act of faith to take a subject matter that isn’t traditionally regarded as important and sticking with it to the end. We think it was well worth it.
NFF: In your own words, why should people come to see All This Panic at Nantucket Film Festival?
J: Because these girls have something to say, it’s awesome and these girls are awesome, and because you think you know what teenage girls are thinking, but you don’t.
T: Jenny says the film is “[her] love letter to teenage girls” and I’m like 'I can't say that; it’d be creepy!' I'll just say It’s not going to be what you think it is; it’s going to be something new.
A World Premiere at NFF16, Xavier Manrique's (Hope Springs) CHRONICALLY METROPOLITAN has just released a trailer. Written by Nick Schutt (Blood and Oil), the sardonic comedy about love and letting go stars: Shiloh Fernandez, Ashley Benson, Addison Timlin, Josh Peck, Mary Louise Parker and Chris Noth.
Click the image below for a link to the trailer at Deadline.com.
CHRONICALLY METROPOLITAN has its WORLD PREMIERE at Nantucket Film Festival on Friday, June 24th. It also screens Saturday, June 25th. Director, Xavier Manrique, and writer, Nick Schutt will be in attendance.
Feature selection, MISS STEVENS, is Julia Hart's directorial debut, starring Lily Rabe, celebrated veteran of stage and screen. Julia Hart’s debut script "The Keeping Room" landed on the Black List and was made into a feature directed by Daniel Barber starring Brit Marling. She’s written for John Requa and Glenn Ficarra at Fox Searchlight, Ridley Scott’s company Scott Free and has a mini-series in the works at HBO with Anna Paquin and Jack Black.
MISS STEVENS had its World Premiere at SxSW where Julia sat to speak about the film. She's joined by Actress Lily Rabe (who plays Miss Stevens) and actor Anthony Quintal (who plays Sam).