Five Questions With… Kristian Mercado (PA’LANTE)

An estranged family in Puerto Rico tries to reconnect in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria, in the narrative short film PA'LANTE by Writer/Director Kristian Mercado.

Listen as Kristian talks about the film, and see it in the "What I'm Looking For" block of short films on Sunday, June 23 at 11:30am!

Five Questions With... Tyler Nilson & Michael Schwartz (THE PEANUT BUTTER FALCON)

In Spotlight Film THE PEANUT BUTTER FALCON, Zak runs away from his care home and teams with fugitive Tyler to go on the adventure of a lifetime. Featuring Shia LaBeouf, Dakota Johnson, Zack Gottsagen, John Hawkes, Bruce Dern, and Thomas Haden Church.

We spoke to writers/directors Tyler Nilson & Michael Schwartz. Read more with them below, and see the film on Sat, June 22 at 7:30pm and Sun, June 23 at 2:45pm!

Note: Young Film Lovers between the ages of 18-30 can see this film for just $10 with code NFFYFL30 online or at the box office!


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

TYLER & MICHAEL: We wrote THE PEANUT BUTTER FALCON  after a heartfelt conversation with our friend Zack.  He’s a born entertainer and had been studying acting and dance most of his life when he told us that he wanted to be a movie star.  We replied honestly that there weren’t a lot of opportunities or roles written for people with Down syndrome to star in movies and he asked, “Then why don’t you write one for me?”  

NFF: What was the casting process like, and where did you find Zack? When did you know he would be your star?

TYLER & MICHAEL: The role was written specifically for Zack, we spent a lot of time together talking about life, movies, adventure, and what he likes and doesn’t like.  A lot of the dialogue in the movie are things that he’d said to us in conversation.

Our biggest challenge wasn’t casting Zack it was keeping him in the role.  Before we landed with producers that "got it" at Bona Fide and Armory we had offers to finance the movie but only if we’d cast a known actor without a disability playing disabled.  

The rest of the cast that filled out with perfect fits.  I’m so proud of the performances given by Shia LaBeouf, Dakota Johnson, Bruce Dern, John Hawkes, Thomas Haden Church, and Jon Bernthal.  Legendary wrestlers Jake “The Snake” Roberts and Mick Foley were amazing to have on set and they added depth and authenticity as well.

NFF: There's both a "buddy comedy" and "road trip" vibe to the film, although this is a uniquely original take...were you inspired by other films in those genres?

TYLER & MICHAEL: There’s a lot of movies that we love and every day we break down films and talk about what types of elements work well to make audiences feel certain ways, connect to characters, and trigger emotions.  Tonally we were influenced by HUCK FINN, STAND BY ME, MUD, etc.

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

TYLER & MICHAEL: First and foremost we’re staying as present as possible with THE PEANUT BUTTER FALCON.  We want to support the movie every way we can so audiences go see the work our whole team put from producers, to actors, and crew. 

Beyond that we have a TV show that we’re developing with LuckyChap based on our experience living in an illegal tree house surrounded by raccoons and mountain lions in Los Angeles (Money was tight right before we left to shoot THE PEANUT BUTTER FALCON) and a feature that we’re keeping under the radar for the time being.

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?

TYLER & MICHAEL: Everything that we’ve heard about Nantucket has been extremely positive.  We’ve always wanted to go to the island and the reputation of the festival is that a lot of the focus is on writing which is such an important part of the process and often overlooked. 

With any movie the goal is for the audience to connect, feel something, maybe identify with a character, and have an authentic experience.  When we premiered at SXSW the reactions exceeded expectations and the film took home the audience award.  In Nantucket we hope the audience is taken in by the mix of hope, heart, and drama as well in a way that might make their day, week, or life just a little bit better.

Five Questions With... Gregory Bernstein & Sara Bernstein (OFFICIAL SECRETS)

In Spotlight Film OFFICIAL SECRETS, a British intelligence officer risks everything to become a whistleblower after she learns of a plot to blackmail the UN Security Council to support the 2003 invasion of Iraq. Featuring Keira Knightley, Matt Smith, Matthew Goode, Rhys Ifans, and Ralph Fiennes.

We spoke to co-writers Gregory Bernstein and Sara Bernstein about their film. Read more, and catch it on Saturday, June 22 at 2:30pm and Sunday, June 23 at 9:30am!

NFF: Can you talk a little about how you found this story, and why you wanted to adapt it?

GREGORY & SARA: We were having lunch in LA with friends who were passing through town, journalist Marcia Mitchell and her late husband, Tom, who was a former FBI agent. The two of them wrote nonfiction espionage-related books together, and they mentioned that they had just come back from the UK, where they’d managed to coax an interview out of a very private young translator for a British intelligence agency -- and proceeded to tell us Katharine Gun’s incredible story.

Marcia and Tom had healthy debates about whistleblowing; so do Gregory and I. But all four of us have complete respect for the purity of Katharine’s motivations. She acted on instinct, and out of a sense of conscience. For writers, it’s rich material, and a subject matter that we hope the public will debate. What is a citizen supposed to do when their government is lying on a massive and consequential scale?

And, of course, we liked the David and Goliath element.

NFF: What's your writing process like as a team?

GREGORY & SARA: We started writing together in film school before we even started dating, so it’s a pretty seamless process by now. What works best for us is that one of us will take the lead, and write the first draft. We outline together, and write drafts 2-1000 together.

NFF: How involved was Katharine Gun in the making of the film? 

GREGORY & SARA: Katharine was really generous with her time and advice with all of us – the book authors, the screenwriters, the director, and the actors.

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

GREGORY & SARA: We’re heavy into research and outlining on a couple of different stories – a comedy, a limited series about the murder of Jane Stanford (the founder of Stanford University), and we have a WWII romance/spy story on the back burner. We’ll see what takes shape first. It’s a friendly race to see who gets to be the lead on our next project.

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?

GREGORY & SARA: We’ve always heard that Nantucket, like Austin, is a writers’ festival, and so have always wanted to come. As far as audience takeaways, we just hope that our film will spark discussions, not about the Iraq War, but about the best way to act ethically in an unethical environment. There’s a lot to discuss.

Five Questions With... Brittany Snow (MILKSHAKE)

In MILKSHAKE, Natalie only wants her mother's approval. Her mother wants a big and different future for them both.

Listen to Writer/Director Brittany Snow talk about the film, playing in the "What I'm Looking For" block of short films on Sunday, June 23 at 11:30am!

Fun fact: you can also see Brittany as a presenter at our Screenwriters Tribute on Saturday at 6:30pm!

Five Questions With... Sameh Zoabi (TEL AVIV ON FIRE)

In this irreverent satire, a middle-aged slacker fails upwards in his job on the set of a popular Palestinian soap opera only to end up fielding script notes from a disgruntled Israeli military officer. Winner: 2016 NFF Showtime Tony Cox Feature Screenplay Competition.

We spoke to Writer/Director Sameh Zoabi about TEL AVIV ON FIRE. Read more below, and see it on Thurs, June 20 at 6:00pm and Sun, June 23 at 5:30pm!

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

SAMEH: I was inspired by the reaction to my work both films and scripts - as a Palestinian filmmaker who also hold an Israeli citizenship I feel that people always read closely  into the politics of my work, there is always an interpretation that swings between the two sides.  People question both the Israeli side of the story and the Palestinian, it always feels like it is a test and I have to pass both sides somehow to survive as a filmmaker.  It’s an interesting dilemma that I find myself trapped with each time I want to make a movie… this feeling was the beginning of inspiration of TEL AVIV ON FIRE. Salam, the main character,  is a Palestinian young man that works on finding his voice as a writer on a soap opera, he is trapped between the Israeli Officers at the checkpoint and the Arab producers. He tries to please each one by giving them an end to the show that both agree with. This is for me the core of the  film, and the tone of using comedy was inspired by upbringing—humor is an essential mechanism for my people to deal with the harsh daily reality of experiencing injustice. 

NFF: You're returning to Nantucket, having been a previous Tony Cox Screenplay winner. How has the script changed since then, and/or how was that process helpful to you?

SAMEH: The Tony Cox screenplay award and then later the same year I stayed at the writer’s colony, all of this in fact lead me to the draft in which I was able to raise funding for the film.  Our first funding came a few months after the colony and working with advisors on the script.  However, given the nature of co-production with Europe, we had to go through a set of many rewrites before shooting, as the script was translated into different languages and cultures news ideas were born as a result until almost a week before shooting.  At a certain moment the script and the process started to feel similar to the film’s central dilemma-- in a good way.

NFF: Did you grow up watching soaps? How did you decide on that genre as your entry point?

SAMEH: Soap operas are a big deal in the Middle East. People watch them and are fully taken by them as well. What I find interesting is that the people who watch soaps find the acting and straightforward dialogue more realistic than the subtle acting and dialogue of feature films. The soap opera medium allowed me to explore things that I may never be able to do otherwise in cinema. For instance, the opening scene of the film, which I find quite political. The characters say very direct things, without filters, but because this scene takes place inside the movie as part of a soap opera, it provides comic relief.

When I was growing up inside Israel, disconnected from the Arab world, there were only two TV channels. The Arabic-language shows were mostly from Egypt. They had the best soap opera series, particularly in the month of Ramadan. The show I created in my film is an homage to one famous show I grew up with. Nowadays, the reality has changed. There are hundreds of Arab TV channels and many shows from Syria, Lebanon, Egypt, and even dubbed ones from Turkey and India. Recently, I was watching a soap with my mom. I was laughing at an emotional moment because of its over-dramatized acting and camera work, but my mom was holding a tissue, crying. This experience inspired me when writing and directing the film.  

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

SAMEH: Since I am based in the US for some time now, I feel after TEL AVIV ON FIRE I am ready for a new adventure to make a film in the US. I am in the process of developing a feature and a TV show. That said, I will still be working on films in the Middle East. I am in the process of financing a comedy set in Gaza called CATCH THE MOON.  Rebecca O’Brien from Sixteen Films in the UK is the lead producer working with my partners on TEL AVIV ON FIRE.   My previous work should be available on streaming services, except for my first feature MAN WITHOUT A CELL PHONE (2010), which we hope to have available soon.

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?

SAMEH: I am indeed excited, it is a special intimate festival with a great audience that I feel will connect with my film. So far the film has been screening in many festivals around the word, winning many audience awards thus far; it is a great feeling in general to know that the audience enjoys the film. After all we make films to share with people.  So for me, coming back to Nantucket after being there with a script before is super special. Believing in an idea that now is reality on the big screen.  The film presents a political discussion over the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in a comedic tone, so I hope that the audience will both laugh (enjoy) but also reflect on the issues discussed in the film. Looking forward to it! 

Five Questions With... George Pelecanos (DC NOIR)

Based on short stories written by acclaimed author and writer/producer George Pelecanos (HBO's The DeuceThe Wire), this crime anthology follows a diverse cast of characters living and dying on the fringes of society in the nation’s capital.

We spoke with George about DC NOIR, playing on Friday, June 21 at 5pm. Read more below, and see it this week!

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NFF: Can you talk a little about the adaptation process, and why/how you wanted to make these stories into film?

GEORGE: I had adapted and produced a short, THE CONFIDENTIAL INFORMANT (directed by Stephen Kinigopoulos), based on one of my short stories and I liked the experience.  I decided to do three more and make it a feature anthology film.  It was my way of initiating film production in DC, a longtime goal of mine.

NFF: What was the decision around directing for the first time? Was it something you've been thinking about for awhile?

GEORGE: If by awhile you mean since childhood, yes.  I have always wanted to direct but I like the indy vibe.  I’ve been working in television for twenty years but I never had the desire to direct episodic TV.  Now that I got my feet wet, I’m going to keep at it.

NFF: DC NOIR has been screened as separate chapters and has a complete film. How do you prefer audiences consume it?

GEORGE: As a complete film.  I made a concession to show it as a chapter one and I don’t think I’ll do that again.  It’s a disservice to the other directors, who all did good work.

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

GEORGE: I’m writing and producing the third and final season of my show, The Deuce, for HBO.  It airs in September.  I hope to get started on my next novel sometime soon.

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?

GEORGE: I just like the festival.  It’s one of the most enjoyable experiences I’ve had in the business.  It’s well run and it’s just big enough, and it seems to be free of most of the politics you run into on the festival circuit.  I’m hoping someone will adopt me and give me a summer home in the island.

Five Questions With... Tim Wilkime (MILTON)

In MILTON, a guy makes a bad first impression when he meets his girlfriend’s family as they gather at her grandfather’s deathbed.

We spoke with Writer/Director Tim Wilkime about the film. The first screening is sold out, so catch the second in the Laugh Out Loud block on Sat, June 22 at 4:15pm!


NFF: Please say a little about your inspiration for the film.

TIM: Milton was based off of a personal experience I had watching my wife’s grandmother take her final breath in hospice. The family was in the room but they were catching up with each other so there were unaware of the grandmother’s passing. I had to break the news to them. It was a very surreal, uncomfortable and emotional experience but it all played out pretty normally. Years later, when I started writing shorts, I thought it would be funny to revisit that experience and write it as if it were an episode of “Curb Your Enthusiasm” but with a meek man that keeps putting his foot in his mouth.

NFF: Why (or how) do you use comedy to tell your story?

TIM: My background is in comedy directing so comedy is naturally where I go as a storyteller. Usually I work in sketch where the jokes and performances can be pretty broad but with Milton, being a dramedy, I wanted to ground the humor as much as possible. I thought if the comedy came from a honest and relatable place the emotional moments would be more impactful.

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

TIM: One of the great things about shorts is that you can take bigger risks than with features. My short is pretty grounded in reality but I have kind of an abstracted ending that I don’t think I’d be able to get away with if this were a feature. Audiences embrace bold choices from a short because shorts don’t really have a traditional structure and set of rules that you have to follow. The biggest challenge with making a short is just putting the production together. You usually end up self-funding it and wearing a lot more hats than you’re used to. It can get discouraging at times but the key is just surrounding yourself with a team of people that believe in the project as much as you do.

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

TIM: Currently I’m writing a feature that I hope to be making in the next year. I also directed two episodes of “Adam Ruins Everything” that will be airing later this year on TruTV. You can find my work at

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?

TIM: As an audience member, there’s no better feeling than being in a theater full of people laughing. The hope is for MILTON to do that for the people of Nantucket. 

Five Questions With... Emilie McDonald, Bruce Smolanoff, & Urvashi Pathania (CHURROS, NAAN & BALSAMIC VINAIGRETTE)

We spoke with the filmmakers behind two of the shorts in the “What I’m Looking For” block, playing on Sunday, June 23 at 11:30am.

Read more with Emilie McDonald and Bruce Smolanoff of CHURROS and Urvashi Pathania of NAAN & BALSAMIC VINAIGRETTE, and see the films on the 23rd!

NFF: Please say a little about your inspiration for the film.

URVASHI: 2016, the end of democracy, some say, also happened to coincide with the end of my first relationship. This film was an attempt to make sense of it all.

NFF: Your film is in the "What I'm Looking For" block. What do you think your characters are in search of?

EMILIE & BRUCE: Jo-Jo is in search of a sense of security and belonging. Maria is in search of safety and comfort for her family, seeking to see the beauty rather than the blemishes in their daily struggles. 

URVASHI: Maya is searching for her own identity. As a woman on the brink of adulthood, she is finally learning about herself, her own preferences, even if the process leads to some painful discoveries.

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

EMILIE & BRUCE: The biggest advantages of making a short are that you can finish things *slightly* more quickly - the script, the shoot and the edit, although the process is still quite time-consuming. Another advantage in our case is that we have a piece of work to show our vision in trying to make the feature version of the film. The biggest challenges of making a short are that you have only a finite number of days to get everything in the can (and in our case our DP was here from out of town so we had no flexibility with timing), and must face whatever challenges come up head-on (we had locked parks where you are supposed to film, unexpected multi-day rainstorms, and more). Ultimately the challenges are part of the work and make their way into making the work more layered.

URVASHI: Shorts give you more room to experiment with form. The viewer of a short has not been conditioned to expect a three-act structure in the same way they have for a feature. Of course, they’re also cheaper and less time-consuming. I have yet to make a feature, but I look forward to having the running time to explore my characters more deeply! I also think excess is more forgivable in features. I love scenes that veer off course, but in a delicious way that adds an unexpected nuance to the story. There's rarely time for that in the short film format.

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

EMILIE & BRUCE: We are working on the feature version of Churros :)

URVASHI: I’m entering the final year of my MFA at USC this fall and will be traveling to Rajasthan, India to shoot my thesis film! You can follow my journey on my website or on instagram @swurvashi.

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?

EMILIE & BRUCE: We are excited to screen in Nantucket for many reasons. We have heard that the festival and audiences are just incredible and we cannot wait to meet everybody. We of course are also excited to see Nantucket for the first time. We have never been there and it almost seems like a magical Shangri-la so will be nice to see the real thing in person. We hope Nantucket audiences will relate to the plight of a young boy grappling with a big decision, and will be able to put themselves in the shoes of a new immigrant trying to provide for her family.

URVASHI: This film is five minutes of densely layered half thoughts. It was the first film I made in my MFA, and I felt a sort of need to scrap together all of my ideas and emotions. I hope the audience derives some pleasure from the mixed-media format and that it inspires some creativity.


Five Questions With... Paul Downs Colaizzo (BRITTANY RUNS A MARATHON)

In Spotlight Film BRITTANY RUNS A MARATHON, a young woman who hides her insecurities with humor becomes determined to turn her life around one block at a time training for the New York City Marathon. Featuring Jillian Bell, Michaela Watkins, and Utkarsh Ambudkar. Winner: Audience Award, Sundance.

We spoke with writer/director Paul Downs Colaizzo about this funny and heartwarming film. Read more with Paul below, and see it at NFF on Thurs, June 20 at 3:15pm and/or Sat, June 22 at 4:45pm!

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NFF: Can you talk a little about your inspiration for the film, and your relationship to the "real" Brittany?

PAUL: The screenplay was born out of the late night talks I had with my friend Brittany when we were both in our mid-20s. In trying to define success and fulfillment for ourselves, we started to wonder if we were capable of more than we’d always believed.  As an experiment in pushing herself, she went for a run. Before she’d returned home from the run, I’d come up with a rough outline of the film. Brittany and I have a rare friendship, with the kind of insight and support that somehow, almost cyclically, finds a way of inspiring each of us.

NFF: Are you a runner? Which do you think is harder: running a marathon, or finishing a script (and getting it made)?

PAUL: I am not a runner, I’ve never been a runner, I actually had to get double ankle surgery while we were in post because I was physically not created to stand for long periods of time, let alone rely on my feet to get me from one point to another quickly.

So, answering for myself, I’d say running a marathon would be harder than getting this movie made because 26.2 miles of relying on my joints would be impossible while getting this film made was only near impossible.

NFF: What was the casting process like, and/or when did you know that Jillian would be your Brittany?

PAUL: Finding our Brittany started about 9 months before we started filming. Jillian had read the script, I’d been a huge fan of her work, but I knew that exploring a part specifically like this one would be a new exploration for her. We met and had a few conversations about what we both wanted out of this movie, how we wanted the world to see this character and her journey, and it became clear we both had the same goals, and that this was going to be a very vulnerable and personal experience for her. And it felt like it had the chance of being an electric performance. Jillian brought her heart, soul, and then some to the role and I’ll be thankful for her hard work forever.

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

PAUL: I’m currently finishing up a script I’ve been toying with for a couple of years now. Stay tuned.

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?

PAUL: What I’ve learned traveling the film festival circuit with this movie is that every demographic finds an emotional way into the movie. I’m interested to see how Nantucket audiences respond to the film in a moment-to-moment way, and even more excited for them to experience the totality of the journey in the way all of our audiences have responded so far. I want Brittany to stick with them long after they leave the theater.

Five Questions With... Christopher Guerrero (WHITE GUYS SOLVE SEXISM)

The Weinstein scandal causes two men to discover all of their favorite movies are now sexist in WHITE GUYS SOLVE SEXISM, playing in the “Laugh Out Loud” block of shorts on Friday, June 21 at 9:15am and Saturday, June 22 at 4:15pm.

We spoke with Writer/Director Christopher Guerrero about the film - read more, and see it next weekend!


NFF: Please say a little about your inspiration for the film. Why (or how) do you use comedy to tell your story?

CHRISTOPHER: The idea for WHITE GUYS SOLVE SEXISM originated after a conversation with a close friend. they told me about a number of male filmmakers from a famous University coming together to mourn the ‘loss of filmmaking’ in a post-Weinstein world. These men were so blindsided and shocked that women could be treated so terribly for so long… and they… THEY DIDN’T EVEN KNOW. While Weinstein’s abuse is both shocking and horrifying, it is far from the first sign of sexism in the film industry.

WHITE GUYS SOLVE SEXISM is an expression of the absurdity of men freaking out about something incredibly obvious to everyone else in the room. It is my hope that viewers can identify the absurdity, not unlike the characters in the short.

I also wanted to make a short about self-congratulatory elements of filmmaking. If this were ever to win an Academy Award, I would have to look out upon a sea of white men, hoisting a trophy, saying ‘We did it!’. Even recognizing that this film is good is a sort of congratulating itself. Give yourself a pat on the back, white guys. Ya did it.

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

CHRISTOPHER: It really depends on the project for me, this project was conceived shot and edited within about 72 hours worth of time.  Which is great because it allows you to come up with something quickly and then show it to the world. Though in other short films I've made, it was really hard to be concise, clear, and to the point. In shorts, you don't have much time have to choose wisely, which is an amazing challenge.

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

CHRISTOPHER: The same day (June 21st) that WHITE GUYS SOLVE SEXISM screens in Nantucket I will be having the world premiere of my latest pilot/short film CAR STEALERS at the TCL Chinese theater for "Dances With Film" which is very exciting.  You can find out more at:

Currently, projects getting ready to shoot are a short film called THE CUCK. "After being fired, a Drama teacher becomes an Alt-Right fanatic writing a play about a " Cuck", but he's too naive to see that the "Cuck" is in fact himself."  Also, a short film called GIRL AFRAID with my partner Stef Estep-Gozalo which takes place in my home town of Selma, CA (near Fresno) about a young Latinx woman and how hard it is for young poor underprivileged mothers to get health care. In the realm of features, I am in pre-production and funding on a feature called THREE BULLSHIT DAYS with writer Ryan Gilmore its sort of THE BIG CHILL but about a metal band instead of college friends.

You can see more of my work at my website, my latest finished projects will be there as well as click on my CV to view everything in chronological order.

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?

CHRISTOPHER: I've been told for many years by many close film mentors that Nantucket was by far their favorite film festival to go to; it's intimate and you get to meet amazing people. I really hope people are able to take away how absurd the "white savior complex" is and how absurd it is for "men" not to realize that sexism exists or have turned a blind eye to it for so long. I would love to make people "wake up" and realize that horrible things are happening around them.