NFF Alumni Emmy Nominees

The 2019 Primetime Emmy nominations were announced yesterday, and we’re proud and thrilled to congratulate the NFF alums included! Watch for the winners on September 22 at 8pm!

Directing for Documentary/Non-fiction Program:
Julie Cohen, Betsy West, RBG, CNN (NFF Now)
Tim Wardle, THREE IDENTICAL STRANGERS, CNN (NFF 2018)

Documentary or Non-fiction Special:
JANE FONDA IN FIVE ACTS, HBO (NFF 2018)
LOVE, GILDA, CNN (NFF 2018)
MINDING THE GAP, Hulu (NFF 2018)
THE INVENTOR: OUT FOR BLOOD IN SILICON VALLEY, HBO (NFF Now)

Exceptional Merit in Documentary Filmmaking:
RBG, CNN (NFF Now)
THE SENTENCE, HBO (NFF 2018)
THREE IDENTICAL STRANGERS, CNN (NFF 2018)

Writing for a Variety Series:
Saturday Night Live, NBC (includes NFF 2019 Honoree Sudi Green among the nominated writers)

Outstanding Limited Series:
Escape at Dannemora, Showtime (NFF Board Member Ben Stiller executive produced and directed all episodes)

Five Questions With... Annabelle Attanasio (MICKEY AND THE BEAR)

Teenager Mickey, forced to take on adult responsibilities as her veteran father struggles with addiction, must ultimately choose between familial obligation and personal fulfillment, in MICKEY AND THE BEAR by writer/director Annabelle Attanasio.

Read more with Annabelle below, and see the film TODAY (Sat 6/22) at 11:45am and tomorrow (Sun 6/23) at 9pm!

Young Film Lovers between the ages of 18-30 can enjoy $10 tickets with code NFFYFL30 online or at the door!

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

ANNABELLE: There are so many father-son stories, but only a handful of father-daughter stories where the daughter is more than a vehicle for her father’s emotions. I am so grateful that recent films like EIGHTH GRADE and LEAVE NO TRACE exist, and I hope MICKEY AND THE BEAR falls into the expanding canon of films that explore the complexity of the father-daughter bond.

My film contributes something somewhat darker, somewhat outré to that canon. What happens when you are 17, your mother’s dead, and your Dad is single, unstable, and self-medicating with booze and pills? Mickey alternates between traditional feminine roles — daughter, wife and mother — in order to keep her father’s mercurial moods and addictions at bay. Sometimes she nurtures him like she’s his mom. Sometimes she makes him feel important like she’s his little girl. And sometimes, she inadvertently lets her father cross a boundary so he can fill the void of his late wife.

Since writing the script I have met so many girls and women who have gone through some version of this pattern. I hope Mickey feels like a mosaic of all those girls and women who went through varying degrees of the same experience.

NFF: How old was your lead actress (Camila) when you started filming? Did you adjust your directing technique at all when working with younger actors vs. the adults in the film?

ANNABELLE: Cami has just turned 21 when we started filming. She continues to awe me with her artistic maturity, professionalism, and wisdom beyond her years. She feels like an old pro of her craft. What was fun about working with a group of such unique actors was learning each persons process. Badge is a veteran of film and television but this role was quite different from anything he had done before, so that was really exciting for me — to build the role with such an experienced actor. Ben came up doing a lot of theatre and loves immersing himself in the daily rituals of the real life people he’s representing, and I loved how singular he was able to make his role based on his research. With Calvin, he embodied the essence of the character so viscerally that I decided to cast him and tailor the character to fit him. We spoke extensively before the shoot coming up with Wyatt’s backstory, though in the movie you learn very little about him. I found age somewhat irrelevant — I think each actor is special in their own way and it is the director’s job to learn how to best support and guide them through the shoot.

NFF: You have a background as an actor. Did you always want to make films as a writer/director? What did you learn as an actor that was helpful on the other side of the camera?

ANNABELLE: If you’ve acted professionally and been through the slog of fairly consistent rejection, you just have so much more empathy for your actors. There is nothing worse than feeling like your director is working against you, or having bad communication with him or her. Mickey was an opportunity to really invest in my actor relationships. To make sure I listened and stayed present and was clear in my direction.

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

ANNABELLE: I have two new features in development right now. MICKEY comes out in the Fall. My first short is called FRANKIE KEEPS TALKING and it’s available on Vimeo and my latest short, SAFE SPACE, will be online soon too. 

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... 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... Lilian Mehrel & Mary Evangelista (WATER MELTS)

WATER MELTS is a blue-hearted rom-com about people who are going to lose someone they love. Nobody knows what to say, so they bicker, laugh/cry, and get married. It's a romantic comedy, after all.

This virtual reality experience is available in our Legacy Lounge in the Harborview Room - take a look at the teaser below, as well as our filmmaker Q&A, and try it out for yourself this week!

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

LILIAN & MARY: Each of us co-creators were handed similar cards - the person we love most was given a terminal diagnosis. We came together and realized the story we had to create: a story that didn't exist yet. A story about the struggle to enjoy the moment with your loved one when you have been told you will lose them. It's almost impossible to be light under urgent dark clouds, but we knew what it felt like to live for the smallest of golden moments. And how the most absurd comedic moments burst forth from these tightly wound circumstances. And how it's about love.

NFF: Why do you enjoy working in VR to express your vision?

LILIAN & MARY: We are storytellers first, but we love the challenge of telling a story in this medium. When the entire space is our canvas, how do we imbue scenes with feeling? WATER MELTS is unique in the 360 realm as a narrative-driven cinematic piece. It also stands out in its play with genre: a blue-hearted rom-com.

We embraced a minimalist naturalism with long takes (the way it might feel to be sitting near a couple on the beach, eavesdropping on their argument) -the dreamy theatrics of life. We wanted the audience to have breathing room to look around and take in the vastness of the beach, to choose to watch the characters or let their conversation wash over you as you follow an animation. The blank canvas beach environment allowed any Fellini-esque absurdity to stand out in contrast.

We also enjoyed playing with cinematic touches in editing, like creating a slow-motion 360 montage.

It also brings an old-school element to the new medium in a fresh way. We overlay classic hand-painted animation (created by Emmy-award-winning artist Maya Edelman) on the 3-dimensional live-action footage. The real and the unreal co-existing in this surreal emotional landscape - the way humor and heartbreak can live together too.

NFF: What do you find the biggest advantages and challenges of making a film in this way, vs. "traditional" filmmaking?

LILIAN & MARY: The biggest advantage is the minimalism, which forces us to sharpen our storytelling skills. Also by allowing us to give audiences a life-like experience, we were able to let the real (live-action) and the unreal (animation) co-exist in a surreal emotional landscape - the way humor and heartbreak can live together too. So we overlaid old-school hand-painted animation (created by Emmy-award-winning Broad City artist Maya Edelman) on the 3-dimensional live-action footage.

The biggest disadvantage is the difficulty in sharing the final work with wide audiences.

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

LILIAN & MARY: We’re working on a new romantic-comedy-with-an-edge series. More about our work at www.lilianmehrel.com and www.maryevangelista.com.

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?

LILIAN & MARY: We love the emphasis on screenwriting at Nantucket, and hope audiences will connect to our storytelling first and foremost. We also hope that those who see themselves in our characters and circumstances will feel seen. We would love to engage with audiences and invite anyone to share impressions with us - hashtag #WaterMelts and feel free to message us on Instagram (@lilianfilm @maryelista) - thank you!

Five Questions With... Jim Picariello (PASSIVE AGGRESSIVE DADS)

In PASSIVE AGGRESSIVE DADS, two middle-aged dads want to spend a quiet day with their daughters at the park. When a group of teens drive by too fast and too loud, it spurs them into a self-righteous act.

Take a look at our video chat with Writer/Director Jim Picariello, and catch the film on Saturday, June 22 at 4:15pm!

Five Questions With... Michael Tyburski (THE SOUND OF SILENCE)

In Spotlight Film THE SOUND OF SILENCE, a successful "house tuner," who calibrates the sound in people's homes in order to adjust their moods, meets a client with a problem he can't solve. Featuring Peter Sarsgaard, Rashida Jones, and Austin Pendleton.

Read more about the film with writer/director Michael Tyburski, and see it on Sat, June 22 at 11:30am and Sun, June 23 at 12:15pm!

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NFF: Can you talk a little about your inspiration for both the script and the visual/aural palette of the film?

MICHAEL: Well, it started with a short film that I made called PALIMPSEST, which I wrote with my friend Ben Nabors. And I think after making the short, we both realized that we wanted to do more with the “house tuner” character, who is introduced in that film. He’s the perfect conduit in which to tell a larger story about sound and the way it influences people. The feature script was really inspired by our collective experiences living in a noisy city. Aurally, I wanted sound to be represented as an ever present, but invisible character on screen too. We used a lot of static frames in the film, and my cinematographer and I played with negative space so that we could leave physical room for this unseen presence that is mostly portrayed sonically. As far as the visual palette, it’s a modern set film, but told from the point-of-view of a character who operates in a slightly dated New York, aesthetically. So we had that spirit in mind while shooting. I suppose I wanted to try my hand at making my own version of a love letter to New York City too. It’s such an inherently cinematic setting, and I have a lot of romantic feelings about the city.

NFF: Did making the film heighten your own sense of sound in your home (and everywhere else)?

MICHAEL: Very much so, yes. I did a lot of research into sound science and noise leading up to production. I’m typically hyper aware of the sounds around me, but making this film certainly escalated my sensitivity. I don’t think it was a conscious decision at the time, but when we were in post-production, I actually moved homes within New York City for the first time in a decade of living here. I moved from an apartment on a pretty busy commercial street, to the much quieter block I currently reside on. And like the main character in the film, my personal office is now literally located in a subterranean room in my home, away from the noise on the ground level. I love silence and appreciate having as much control as I can over the sounds that come into my space.

NFF: How did the collaboration work between your sound mixer, composer, and editor?

MICHAEL: It was designed to work very in-tandem in our case. And it’s an interesting question, because more often on an independent film budget, it’s unfortunately typical for these departments to work separately from one another. But it was really important for me from the beginning to make sure there was a dialogue between everybody. Because sound itself is really its own character in the story, it was necessary to be actively thinking about that unseen element while we were editing picture. Our sound team came into the edit to review early cuts, and even created temp sounds for us so we could use them prior to getting into the actual sound mix. Once we were mixing, our designers were working in parallel with our composer too. I personally think sound design and score are at their best when they can become one and the same.

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

MICHAEL: I’m spending a lot of time writing these days. I’ve been dreaming of doing something that takes place in the past, so I’ve been doing a bit of time traveling to long gone eras as of late. As far as where you can see more of my work, a lot of my short films are easily tracked down and available to screen on the old world wide web.

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?

MICHAEL: I'm excited to screen as much as I can while I’m on the island. Presenting work to a live audience in a movie theater is one of my favorite things. So I’m really just looking forward to the opportunity to share a good story that hopefully resonates.

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!

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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.