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!


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. 


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!



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?

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!



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?


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.  

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! 



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... Steven Cantor, Director/Producer of BALLET NOW

We're screening an incredible documentary on the Monday of #NFF18 (Monday, June 25 at 12:15pm) and want to make sure you grab your tickets NOW for this not-to-be-missed special film.

BALLET NOW provides a rarely seen, unfiltered glimpse into the world of ballet and what it takes to create a groundbreaking, one-of-kind dance extravaganza. Featuring a diverse cast of world-class dancers from around the globe, the film follows New York City Ballet’s Prima Ballerina Tiler Peck as she unites the worlds of tap, hip-hop, ballet, and even clown artistry as the first female curator of The Music Center’s famed BalletNOW program. With less than a week to pull it all off, Tiler faces the mounting pressures of not only dancing in multiple pieces, but also producing and directing this high-profile event. The success of the performances rests squarely on her shoulders. Will she pull it off?

Read more with Director/Producer Steven Cantor below, and join us on the 25th!


NFF: How did you come to this story, and/or how you were introduced to Tiler?

Steven: Tiler and I made a music video (Charlotte OC - Medicine Man) together last year and became friends, plus I was blown away by her talent and athleticism. My company, Stick Figure, has a partnership with Paul Allen’s Vulcan Productions to do a series of projects aimed at making the classical arts, in particular ballet, more accessible and inspirational to younger generations, so when Tiler was given this opportunity, she told me about it and it fit right in with that mission and became our first feature film together.

NFF: Can you talk about your own relationship to dance and the dance world?

Steven: My main relationship is that my daughter, Clara, is 14 and a student at SAB, the school of the New York City Ballet. She has been there since she was six. There’s no outside pressure on her or anything - she goes because she absolutely loves it. Tiler has been her favorite dancer since she started watching ballet at 3 or 4, so this whole relationship is kind of mind-blowing to her and has  made her think I’m a real cool dad. 

On another note, I made the film DANCER about the so-called “Bad boy of ballet”, Sergei Polunin, last year, so this is my second ballet themed film in a short period.

NFF: How did Elisabeth Moss become involved in Ballet Now?

Steven: Elisabeth was a ballet dancer growing up. In fact she attended the same school, Westside Dance, in L.A. as. Tiler. She is Tiler’s and my partner in this whole mission with Vulcan. And she has obviously a great relationship with HULU, so she was instrumental at bringing them on board at an early stage. She’s been a phenomenal partner - highly engaged and a creative force at every step of the production.

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

Steven: Well, what is never said on screen is that while documenting Tiler’s monolithic effort to pull off this whole program in three days, we essentially had three days to film all the major building blocks of a feature film. On films in the past, I have often taken several years to accomplish the same task. So that was certainly an adventure.

NFF: Why are you excited to screen in Nantucket?

Steven: I love Nantucket. I have been visiting since I was a child and for the last ten years or so, my parents, my sister’s family and mine all rent a house on the island for a few weeks in August. It’s a time of extended family togetherness that we otherwise rarely get. Suffice to say, Nantucket has a special place in my heart. You can spot me riding my bike around town this August, probably with some kids behind me.


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

Five Questions With... Sierra Pettengill and Pacho Velez, Directors of THE REAGAN SHOW

Trading on his celebrity to curry favor with voters, Ronald Reagan transitioned from Hollywood actor to politician, ultimately attaining the highest office in the land. Composed entirely of 1980s news footage and behind-the-scenes videos produced by his own administration, this insightful, entertaining, and strangely prescient film details how Reagan used public relations savvy to become the first made-for-TV president—one uniquely suited to face off against a charismatic Russian rival.

We spoke with THE REAGAN SHOW co-directors Sierra Pettengill and Pacho Velez - read more below, and catch a screening on Saturday, June 24 at 1:30 PM and/or Sunday, June 25 at 4:15 PM!

NFF: How did you even begin the archival footage process? Did you have an idea of what you wanted and went after it, or did you have to wade through hours of material and pull out bits and pieces?

Sierra & Pacho: Our initial interest in Reagan was focused on looking at him through his performed images, and how those changed through time.  That led us to the White House Television Archive (WHTV), housed at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library—which was a massive archive shot by the United States Naval Photographic unit, documenting his years in office. There was a PDF log of the materials, but the sorts of revealing moments that interested us were often hidden beneath quite boring descriptions, so we spent months and months - which become years! - actually sifting through the footage.

In general, it was an inside-out approach. Through careful attention to the footage in the archive, we "learned" to what the archive was telling us about the man, as well as his priorities and policies. Once we had that as a rough shape, and had settled on the US-USSR nuclear negotiations, we turned to reckon with the large archival record of the national news media, to see how they were covering and interpreting his presidency. The film is a dialogue between these sets of archives. 

NFF: Do you think being a "tv president" helped secure Reagan's legacy?

Sierra & Pacho: For sure. Well-crafted images and narratives have the power to bypass our internal critical defenses, and can worm their ways in, influencing and manipulating our recollections of history. This is one of the things we were really interested in exploring: how did Reagan’s legacy get cemented? 

NFF: Why did you decide to present the material without any additional contemporary commentary?

Sierra & Pacho: Presenting original recordings, framed only by our montage, is the best way for audiences to track Reagan through the end of the Cold War—with all its confusion, fear, humor and, above all, irony. A present-day commentary would have provided a voice of "authority" that undercut this experiential journey. Instead, we hope that our immersive, self-reflective approach invites viewers to look closely at—and question—the use of narrative in contemporary politics by presenting them with a direct example of that strategy in action.

NFF: There seem to be obvious parallels with the Trump campaign - were you aware of the similarities either during the last election cycle, and/or while you were working on the film?

Sierra & Pacho: The parallels with Trump are striking, but the film is really illustrating a macro trend - the increasing focus on media spectacle in American politics.  With Trump, there is a particular manifestation right now that makes the trend especially pointed or prevalent.  But this trend is something that’s been developing for decades - it’s the transition from politics as a space of nuanced description of complicated realities to politics as a collection of simplified reassuring narratives.  And the scariest thing is that it’s wrong to think Trump is the end of it.  He’s just one more weigh station along the road.

NFF: Why are you excited to show the film in Nantucket, and/or what do you hope Nantucket audiences will take away?

Sierra & Pacho: We hope that the film helps to provide a new lens on both the Reagan presidency and a way to look at and understand the current political climate - both through the similarities and the manifold differences. And also, that they'll have a good time watching the film!

Five Questions With... Sabrina Schmidt Gordon, Producer of QUEST

Christopher "Quest" Rainey and his wife, Christine’a, are raising their kids in a North Philadelphia neighborhood beset by poverty, drugs, and violence. As an antidote, the Raineys nurture the community in their basement music studio, but this creative sanctuary can’t always keep them safe. Sensitively filming this open, genuine, and loving family over the course of a decade, Jonathan Olshefski constructs an ultimately uplifting counternarrative to typical depictions of African-American lives.

Read more with Producer Sabrina Schmidt Gordon, and come see QUEST on Thursday, June 22 at 9:00 PM and/or Friday, June 23 at 1:45 PM!

NFF: How did the film come to you? Had you worked with Jonathan before?

Sabrina: Jonathan and I met through a mutual filmmaker friend. He had been filming for several years and was ready to start putting the film together. Jonathan is a photographer, and this would be his first film. Our friend told him that he needed a team, and recommended me. I work mostly as and editor and producer, so he thought I’d be someone who could advise and provide support on these different aspects of the filmmaking process. When Jonathan reached out to me and sent me some clips he had assembled, I realized that I had seen the footage before. He had applied for a grant and I happened to be one of the reviewers. The bad news was that he wasn’t selected to be one of the recipients. The good news was that there was a lot we liked about the material, so I agreed to meet with him, and we had a long discussion about what I thought were the challenges with the material and how to approach the story and structuring the film. He was very open to feedback, even if critical. He was really committed to making the best film possible, so I was really encouraged by that and excited to collaborate with him. He mentioned that he applied for a grant that he didn’t get and I said, “yes, I know, I was there!” He was floored. It was pretty funny!

NFF: Shooting took almost a full decade - were you onboard for the whole shoot, and/or aware of the amount of time Jonathan would take to complete it?

Sabrina: No, Jon had been shooting for years when we met. He did continue to shoot after I was onboard, and there was an ongoing joke that Jonathan was never going to stop filming! We didn’t exactly know what the ending would be, but there was a natural arc provided by the election of President Obama in 2008, and the end of his second and final term.

NFF: Do you have a connection to Phily and/or this community?

Sabrina: Well, it’s interesting. I’m from New York and have never lived in Philadelphia, but this is the third Philly-themed film I’ve made. I’ve gotten to know Philadelphia through a camera lens, through the remarkable people who’ve shared their stories.

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

Sabrina: I think stories about Black folks in under-served urban neighborhoods is wrought with stereotypes, mostly negative. They’re also pervasive in our society, so the challenge is how to pierce through the preconceptions people may be bringing to the story, to disrupt them in a way that gets to a much more authentic and nuanced truth.

NFF: Why are you excited to show the film in Nantucket, and/or what do you hope Nantucket audiences will take away?

Sabrina: I hope people will see themselves in the Raineys. There’s a way in which our society is increasingly segregated and stratified that suggests that our worlds are too different for us to understand and relate to one another. QUEST certainly upends that, and goes a long way in sharing the depth, beauty, and complexity of a family, and of a community that is often disparaged, misunderstood, or ignored altogether.