Five Questions With... Sarah Colt & Josh Gleason (TRUE BELIEVER)

TRUE BELIEVER is the story of Arkansas pastor Robb Ryerse, one of the only evangelical Christians who spoke out against Trump’s rhetoric of hate.

Take a look at our Five Questions With… directors Sarah Colt and Josh Gleason, and see the film in the “Characters Welcome” block of documentary shorts on Sat, June 22 at 9:30am!

NFF: Please say a little about your inspiration for, or how you found the subject of your film.

SARAH & JOSH: In the days following Trump’s victory, we wanted to tell a story about the surge of political newcomers running for office. There was no shortage of amateur candidates running on the Democratic side, but we wanted to focus on a campaign that transcended party and drew attention to the process itself. That was how we found US congressional candidate Robb Ryerse, a progressive evangelical Republican who pastors a church in Fayetteville, Arkansas. What initially struck us about Robb was that, unlikely the majority of evangelical Christians, his ministry focused on love and social justice issues.

Robb started his grassroots campaign with the support of Brand New Congress, an upstart political action committee that recruits non-politicians to run for office. One of Robb’s fellow recruits for the 2018 midterms was Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. 

 NFF: You’re in the documentary block. How do you balance entertainment value with a factual accounting of events?

SARAH & JOSH: We come from a background in journalism, so the facts take precedence. We are always mindful of our ethical obligation to depict our subjects fairly. But entertainment value is an important consideration, and we tend to gravitate towards stories that we believe will have a beginning, middle, and end. Following principal photography, we typically sketch out a dramatic narrative structure that will guide us in shaping the footage. The goal is to create an emotional experience for the viewer, not just an intellectual one. After all, if the story doesn’t capture the attention of audiences, then its message obviously won’t spread very far. 

To make sure that the film hasn’t drifted away from the facts during the editing process, we rigorously fact-check prior to completion. With a véritéfilm like TRUE BELIEVER, we screened a fine cut for the protagonist, Robb Ryerse, and gave him the opportunity to tell us if there was anything he considered inaccurate or misconstrued. We always maintain editorial independence, but it’s important to us that our subjects feel they have been portrayed accurately.   

 NFF: What do you find the biggest advantages and challenges of making a short as opposed to a feature?

SARAH & JOSH: Since most stories don’t rise to the level of a feature, the short form opens the doors to all kinds of enlightening, artful, and socially urgent stories that wouldn’t otherwise be told. It’s been inspiring to see how the form has given filmmakers the confidence to take more creative risks. It was never our expectation that True Believer would turn into a feature. Knowing that there is an audience for shorts took some pressure off, and gave us the confidence to pursue the story. 

The short form pushes you to be economical and precise with your editorial choices. True Believerwas edited from over 70 hours of footage, so it took some time to compactly layer a rich, compelling story. It really is like a literary short story in that every detail serves the storytelling in some way. If a scene or a piece of dialog wasn’t playing a well-defined role, then there really wasn’t room for it. 

 NFF: What are you working on currently, and/or where can we see more of your work?

SARAH & JOSH: We’re currently in post production on an vérité feature documentary that we’re very excited about. The working title is PROMISED LAND. It interweaves the personal stories of a factory worker in Ohio, a fifth-generation Kansas farmer, and an Uber driver in Florida. For years, their hard work paid off, but corporate consolidation and the erosion of union wages force drastic changes. We’ve had exceptional access to their personal and professional lives and have watched as all three made dramatic life choices in response to changing economic realities. The result is a kaleidoscopic portrait of a middle-class on the edge—and a time capsule of this moment in American history. We plan to release the film in early 2020 and hope to show it at Nantucket next summer! To stay up to date on the latest news about the film, follow our Facebook page.

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

SARAH & JOSH: We are honored to have the east coast premiere of TRUE BELIEVER at such an esteemed festival, with such a deep commitment to meaningful storytelling. We look forward to providing Nantucket audiences with a window into a part of the country, and a type of Christian, that they may not be familiar with. We hope that the film’s portrayal of an idealistic effort to create political change, no matter the odds, is inspirational. 

Five Questions With... Irene Taylor Brodsky (MOONLIGHT SONATA: DEAFNESS IN THREE MOVEMENTS)

In MOONLIGHT SONATA: DEAFNESS IN THREE MOVEMENTS, filmmaker Irene Taylor Brodsky turns the camera on her own family to craft a moving, intergenerational exploration of living with deafness, as her teenage son grows up, and her parents confront growing older.

Hear more from Irene in the video below, and see the film on Wed, June 19 at 12:45pm and Thurs June 20 at 11:15am!

Five Questions With... Jenifer McShane (ERNIE & JOE)

Two compassionate officers with the San Antonio Police Department's innovative mental health unit divert people away from jail and into proper treatment, one 911 call at a time, in ERNIE & JOE by Jenifer McShane.

Read more with Jenifer below, and see ERNIE & JOE on Wed, June 19 at 3:15pm and Thurs, June 20 at 9:45am!

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NFF: Can you talk a little bit about your relationship to this subject, and/or how you met Ernie and Joe?

JENIFER: While I was researching and making my last film MOTHERS OF BEDFORD it became  painfully clear to me how many people with mental health challenges are sitting behind bars.  When the work of Ernie and Joe and the rest of the SAPD mental health unit came to my attention I felt strongly it was a story that desperately needed to be told. I initially visited San Antonio and rode along with Ernie and Joe with no camera to get a clearer sense of the their work and who they were as people. I felt that these two officers were characters that an audience could connect with and their perspective would be a compelling way to reveal the wider story of our mental health crisis. 

NFF: How did you and EJ approach filming to capture what you wanted/needed while remaining respectful of your subjects?

JENIFER: From day one I wanted the experience to feel immersive without being exploitive. I wanted to illustrate how personal and intimate the rapport can be without intruding on the process or ruining the connection being developed between Ernie, Joe and the person in crisis. This was done in large part by getting excellent sound coverage and shooting from a respectful distance. 

NFF: Was anything off limits while filming was happening, or in your editing/assembly?

JENIFER: No, the access was excellent. I returned to ride with Ernie and Joe again and again over a 2 1/2 year period. The access made a huge impact on the intimacy of the story.

NFF: What are you working on currently, and/or where can we see more of your work?

JENIFER: I am researching a story about mental health treatment. ERNIE & JOE reveals the importance of decriminalizing mental illness and training law enforcement to recognize people in crisis and deescalate situations.  Now we need to find better treatments.

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?

JENIFER: I am absolutely thrilled to be screening in Nantucket FF!  Several filmmakers have told me how wonderful the experience is. I have a never been to Nantucket before.  As a kid I hoped to visit some day and that day has finally arrived in the best possible way. 

Five Questions With... E.J. McLeavey-Fisher (THE GUY: THE BRIAN DONAHUE STORY)

In THE GUY: THE BRIAN DONAHUE STORY, we take a journey through the checkered career of veteran stunt actor Brian Donahue.

We spoke with director Director E.J. McLeavey-Fisher about the short film. Read more with E.J. below, and catch it in the “Characters Welcome” short documentary film block on Saturday, June 22 at 9:30am!

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NFF: Please say a little about your inspiration for, or how you found your subject of the film.

E.J.: I met Brian during a casting session for a commercial I was directing for a healthcare company. We needed to interview stunt people about their histories, and Brian came in and blew me away. Turns out he wasn’t the right guy for the commercial (as he will tell you “they wanted the beautiful twentysomethings”) but I emailed him that night (with that bad news) and then asked if he’d be interested in discussing another kind of project. We spoke on the phone for two hours the next day, with Brian spinning the most incredible stories about his time in and out of the industry, and I knew we had to make something together, which is what ultimately became THE GUY: THE BRIAN DONAHUE STORY.

NFF: You're in the documentary block. How do you balance entertainment value with a factual accounting of events?

E.J.: We always wanted to approach this project more like a narrative than a traditional doc project, so we shot our first day, the main interview day, then started to build our visual story around that. Using Brian’s story as our guide, we tried our best to either capture or re-create each scene in the most cinematic and powerful way possible without the style interfering with the viewer’s ability to connect with Brian as a real person. I don’t think a stylized approach like this is always appropriate in doc work but in our instance, when you have such a big character like Brian at its center, not to mention the fact that it’s a film about stunts and movies, it made sense. I must say, it’s also a lot more fun shooting this way and having a bit more control rather than following someone around with a camera and waiting for something to happen!

NFF: What do you find the biggest advantages and challenges of making a short as opposed to a feature?

E.J.: I think shorts are great because there’s so much flexibility in what the story is that you ultimately want to tell. Despite the approach I mentioned above, we were still creating a documentary and weren’t working off of a script, and until you get into the edit it’s hard to know how long a film needs to be. If you’re filming a short documentary the story might be twenty minutes or you might realize it’s better off being half that length- this is a luxury that doesn’t exist with features. You’re boxed-in to a stricter format in terms of duration.

The challenge with short films, for me at least, is that I spend as much time on them as I might shooting a feature otherwise. I haven’t done that yet so I can’t exactly compare, but we worked on this project for about three and a half years and only actually filmed 8 days in total. This was due to the fact that everyone involved with it had to work on it in between our paid work (for the crew, shooting commercials and for Brian, splitting his time at UPS and his acting and stunt gigs)- trying to coordinate all of our schedules was incredibly tricky, but we eventually made it happen!

NFF: What are you working on currently, and/or where can we see more of your work?

E.J.: I’ve got a few projects in various stages of development: one super short profile piece about a guy who has been teaching himself to skateboard at age 40 and documenting the process daily on YouTube, a baseball story about Armando Galarraga’s near-perfect game, and a music doc about a band with a cult following from the 70s (who I don’t want to mention yet because I’m waiting to hear back from some lawyers about whether I’ll be allowed to pursue it).  You can see my previous short docs COMIC BOOK HEAVEN and THE DOGIST on my website at www.ej-mf.com, along with some of my commercial work.

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?

E.J.: I’m really excited to screen at Nantucket because I grew up on Cape Cod but have never had the opportunity to screen my work on the Cape and Islands until now! Hopefully it’ll be the first of many at NFF.

Five Questions With... Roy Power (MEMORY VIDEO)

In MEMORY VIDEO, an optimistic video-store owner tries to keep the tradition alive amidst the rising popularity of streaming.

Take a look at the video below where director Roy Power answers our Five Questions, and catch the film in the “Characters Welcome” block of short documentary films on Saturday, June 22 at 9:30am!

Five Questions With... Alison Chernick (JACKSON POLLOCK: BLUE POLES)

JACKSON POLLOCK: BLUE POLES is the true story behind the extraordinary price tag of Jackson Pollock's Blue Poles—now considered one of the most expensive paintings in the world, and one whose purchase almost brought down the Australian government.

We spoke with filmmaker Alison Chernick about this documentary short - learn more, and see it on Thursday, June 20 at 9am in the “Show and Tell” block!

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NFF: Please say a little about your inspiration for, or how you found your subject of the film.

ALISON: I was a close friend of collector/dealer Ben Heller who was responsible for getting Pollock’s work into the mainstream. He had followed my work for a while and asked me to do a film on Pollock and abstract expressionism.  When The National Gallery of Australia came to him regarding Blue Poles- which he had sold to them in 1973 - he referred me to them and this jumpstarted the project.

NFF: You're in the documentary block. How do you balance entertainment value with a factual accounting of events?

ALISON: For me I stick to facts. Truth is often stranger than fiction. It’s about how you weave the story. 

NFF: What do you find the biggest advantages and challenges of making a short as opposed to a feature?

ALISON: A short is much easier in terms of story, financing, time management.  It’s harder in terms of traditional viewer platforms. But you can’t worry about any of that you just have to let the story / subject dictate the length. Many stories can be told concisely. 

NFF: What are you working on currently, and/or where can we see more of your work?

ALISON: Working on a narrative project. Along with another documentary involving the art world.  Voyeurfilms.net

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?

ALISON: Heard it was a great festival!

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Five Questions With... Charlie Tyrell, Director of MY DEAD DAD'S PORNO TAPES

In MY DEAD DAD'S PORNO TAPES, the filmmaker tries to better understand his deceased father through random objects he inherited, including a pile of dirty movies. 

We spoke to filmmaker Charlie Tyrell - read more below, and see the film in the Shorts of the Year block, playing Sat, Jun 23 at 9:00am!

CHARLIE TYRELL

CHARLIE TYRELL

NFF: The film is obviously very personal. Was anything off-limits to use in the film?

CHARLIE: Not really - I mean there were tons of limitations in general. The first being that we only wanted to animate with objects that belonged to my dad, and the second being that I knew my mom, brother, and sister wouldn't really be up to on-camera interviews which is why they were (unknowingly) interviewed and recorded over the phone. But I did keep my family a little in the dark about what kind of content I would include in the film, so it was pretty terrifying when I finally showed it to them. 

NFF: Can you talk a little about the decision to incorporate animation in the storytelling?

CHARLIE: I generally try to incorporate stop motion or animation into any project I'm working on, but in this case it happened to be a perfect fit. My dad's not around to get answers from and there are very little home movies so we had to tell the story with his stuff. But Martha and Phil (the stop motion team) really brought their talents to the table by giving these inanimate objects such fluid movements that really help with the exploratory nature of the story. And then Marty (our 2D animator) brought an extra layer with his animations - including having all of the subtitles for the interviews in the hand writing of the person speaking. That was especially hard to do for my dad and grandmother - we had to source old notes and christmas cards to build an alphabet of their printing.  

NFF: How has your family reacted to the film?

CHARLIE: Well my mom is (obviously) great and has been very supportive through the whole process. I think even if I made a film that she didn't agree with, she would respect that it was my personal perspective. My brother and sister have also been appreciative about it. I think we all find it kind of nice to introduce total strangers to our dad.  

NFF: Has making the film changed or expanded your understanding or relationship to grief?

CHARLIE: This film was kind of made out of a feeling that I hadn't completely settled my grief. Since my dad passed away when I was in my second year of university I felt like I never got to know him as an adult and had to acknowledge that I would never be able to know him from that perspective. So this was me as a fully formed adult taking what I had left of him and what we all knew of him to try to build that to develop a better understanding of him.

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

CHARLIE: Of course! And I'm pretty bummed that I couldn't be there. I'm always happy to be surprised by what someone takes away from the film. I've had strangers come up to me after screenings or send me very personal emails that say "I had the exact same relationship with my dad" or some people can't get past the title. But I made this film for myself so even if it's not a person's cup of tea then I'm totally cool with that too. 

Five Questions With... Dana Adam Shapiro, Director/Producer of DAUGHTERS OF THE SEXUAL REVOLUTION: THE UNTOLD STORY OF THE DALLAS COWBOYS CHEERLEADERS

This 2018 SXSW Special Jury Award-winning film is an entertaining and intriguing look at the iconic Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders. Dana Adam Shapiro (Murderball, NFF 2005) explores the squad’s history and cultural impact in relation to America’s shifting views of women’s roles and sexual freedom in the 1970s. Former squad members—and, most notably, their outspoken, fiercely protective den mother, Suzanne Mitchell—offer unique perspective and explain how the cheerleaders balanced wholesomeness with empowered sexuality to become a pop-culture phenomenon, all while contending with sexism behind the scenes.

Read more with director/producer Dana Adam Shapiro below, and see DAUGHTERS OF THE SEXUAL REVOLUTION: THE UNTOLD STORY OF THE DALLAS COWBOYS CHEERLEADERS on Sat, June 23 at 6:30pm and/or Sun, June 24 at 6:15pm!

DANA ADAM SHAPIRO

DANA ADAM SHAPIRO

NFF: Can you talk a little about why now seems like an appropriate cultural moment for this film?

DANA: When we started filming in January 2016, there was no President Trump, no #MeToo movement. Now, of course, we're in the middle of a gender revolution, and the NFL is in crisis.  I would love to say that we were prescient, but the truth is, we got lucky.  

NFF: How familiar were you with the Dallas Cowboys cheerleaders before embarking on this film? How did you come to the story?

DANA: Not familiar at all.  I'm from Boston.  The film began at a party in Laurel Canyon on Super Bowl Sunday in 2015.  We were watching the Patriots play the Seahawks with my two-year-old son.  It was his very first football game so I was explaining all the different positions. That’s the quarterback—he throws the ball. There’s the coach—he calls the plays.  Then the camera panned over to the cheerleaders and I remember thinking: We still have cheerleaders?  It felt retro, kind of kitschy, and I wondered: How did all this start?  Nobody at the party had any idea, so I set out to find out how scantily-clad showgirls wound up on the sidelines of sporting events.  

Sure enough, my research led me to Dallas.  In the fall of 1972, nine years after the Kennedy assassination, the Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders debuted at Texas Stadium, offering football fans “a little sex with their violence.” Meanwhile, across town, at the Dallas County Courthouse, a pregnant plaintiff known only as “Jane Roe” was about to ignite a culture war with a landmark Supreme Court decision giving women control over their own bodies for the first time ever.  And all of this was happening in the Baptist buckle of the Bible Belt at the height of the Sexual Revolution. 

There was a story here.  But it didn't become a film until we met Suzanne Mitchell, the mastermind — and matriarch -- of the squad from 1976-1989. 

NFF: What do you think about the current lawsuits and allegations in the professional cheerleading community, including the Cowboys?

DANA: I think it's about time.  

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

DANA: 
We got a few calls from the Cowboys attorney.  I have since become an expert in the definition of "fair use."

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?

DANA: I've been coming to Cape Cod since I was a little kid, my grandmother lived in Falmouth.  And my first film, MURDERBALL, played here in 2005.  So I couldn't be happier to be back.

As for what I hope audiences will take away...  My favorite reaction is when people come in with a lot of judgement about these women, thinking that they're just a bunch of red state, bubble-headed Barbie dolls.  I thought the same thing.  And it's very cathartic to be confronted with your own judgementalism.  

Five Questions With... Robert Greene, Director of BISBEE '17

Bisbee, Arizona, a former copper-mining town on the border with Mexico, has never reckoned with its dark past. In 1917, a strike by mine workers, many of them immigrants, was violently brought to an end with an illegal forced mass deportation. On the occasion of this tragedy's centenary, innovative nonfiction filmmaker Robert Greene (Kate Plays Christine, NFF 2016) collaborates with residents to confront this troubling episode through a town-wide reenactment, one that has haunting resonance with our present-day debates about immigration, unions, and corporate power.

Robert sent in this special video interview below - take a look, and check out BISBEE '17 on Sat, June 23 at 8:30pm and Sun, June 24 at 4pm!

Five Questions With... Rudy Valdez, Director of THE SENTENCE

Director Rudy Valdez’s sister, Cindy, a married mother of three young girls, long ago left a drug-dealing ex. Despite this, she receives a mandatory minimum sentence of 15 years in prison under conspiracy charges related to his crimes. Over a period of ten years, Rudy’s camera captures the moments in his nieces’ lives that Cindy is missing. This personal portrait of the devastating impact of draconian laws on families was an Audience Award winner at this year’s Sundance Film Festival.

Read more with Rudy below, and see THE SENTENCE on Fri, June 22 at 2pm and Sat, June 23 at 10:30am!

RUDY VALDEZ

RUDY VALDEZ

NFF: This film is obviously very personal to you - did you have any reservations about laying yourself and your family's story bare? 

RUDY: The film is very personal.  I certainly had reservations about telling such an intimate story, but ultimately felt like I would be doing my family a disservice if I didn’t share.  To me, this was only going to remain a terrible event in my family's history if we allowed it to be.  I wanted so much to make something good out of this.  I promised my family that I wouldn’t let this be in vain.

NFF: Did making the film change your relationship to your sister (or your family at large)?

RUDY: The film did not change our relationship - what you see on screen is what you get.

NFF: What would you want to tell audiences who want to get involved in a prison reform campaign or conversation?

RUDY: When audiences ask how they can get involved I often say pay attention to what you are voting for.  Read between the lines when people starting using rhetoric like “soft on crime” or “hard on crime”.  With that said, I also ask people that are moved by the film - that feel like this is a call to action for them - to fight! There are so many people in prison with stories just like my sister.  They don’t all have someone on the outside fighting for them.  Find someone and fight for them. 

NFF: Did you face any particular challenges or surprises when filming/assembling the film?

RUDY: No!

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?

RUDY: I’m excited to screen and Nantucket because as a documentary filmmaker we often work in a vacuum.  Wondering if what we are making is going to resonate.  If it’s going to be seen at all. To be invited to such a wonderful film festival is an honor, and I can’t wait to share the story and see what the audience takes away from it.