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... Ryan White, Director of THE KEEPERS

The second in our TV AND TALKS Series: From director Ryan White (NFF alum with The Case Against 8, Serena, Good Ol’ Freda) comes a new, riveting seven-part documentary series about the unsolved murder of a nun and the horrific secrets and pain that linger nearly five decades after her death.

Sister Cathy Cesnik, a beloved nun and Catholic high school teacher in Baltimore, went missing on November 7, 1969. In the 1990s, one of Sister Cathy’s former students – a woman only known as “Jane Doe” – came forward to reveal her own harrowing story and disturbing details about Sister Cathy's case – but the truth still remained elusive. White pieces together a larger story that goes beyond the death of a beloved schoolteacher to encompass clergy abuse, repressed memories, and allegations of an extensive cover-up. The Keepers is a Netflix Original Documentary Series.

We're thrilled to present an episode of the series followed by a conversation with Ryan White and “Jane Doe” herself.

Read more with Ryan below, and join us for the screening and conversation on Sunday, June 25 at 11:45 am!

Ryan White

Ryan White

NFF: You have a personal connection to this material, correct? Could you tell us how the story came to you?

Ryan: My aunt went to the high school that is the epicenter of The Keepers. She was Sister Cathy's student and a classmate of Jane Doe. She told me about the story a few years ago and I went to Baltimore to meet Jane Doe. That's how it all began.

NFF: The "true crime" genre is having a bit of a renaissance - do you have thoughts about why that is?

Ryan: I think Americans are interested in justice, and they get particularly angry when they watch and experience these stories about injustice. If there's any common denominator  of all these true crime series that have gained popularity, I think they are all stories of injustice and a lack of accountability.

NFF: The story here is unbelievably difficult and complicated - did you have a hard time staying objective as a filmmaker?

Ryan: I had to distance myself sometimes from the anger -- anger over what was done to the children and anger about the amount of corruption that's kept these stories buried. But I was also constantly reminding myself that I didn't have to live the pain that my subjects did -- so the least I could do was be a part of having their truths brought to light.

NFF: When you originally started working on The Keepers, did you always envision it as a multi-part show? Or was it meant to be a shorter, more contained movie, like your previous work?

Ryan: We began The Keepers before Serial, The Jinx, or Making A Murderer had come out, so there wasn't really a model yet for the episodic true crime format. But once each of those came out, we realized we might have some more dimensional ways to tell The Keepers. It was really good timing to have a true crime story that seemed to have so many layers and a distributor felt deserved a longer format.

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

Ryan: It's my fourth documentary to play here, so I'm thrilled to be back. But mostly I'm excited that Jane Doe will be joining me on stage and talking about her experience. It will be her first public appearance since the series came out last month.

Five Questions With... Oscar-nominated Gabourey Sidibe, Director of THE TALE OF FOUR

We're so thrilled to host our Afternoon Tea Talk at #NFF17 on Sunday, June 25 at 2:15pm with Oscar-nominated actress Gabourey Sidibe (Empire, Precious), who will be presenting her directorial debut, THE TALE OF FOUR

This multi-layered story inspired by Nina Simone’s “Four Women” spans one day in the lives of four different women connected by their quest for love, agency and redemption. Featuring Jussie Smollett (Empire) and Ledisi.

Gabourey’s directorial debut is part of Refinery29’s Shatterbox Anthology short film series, which works to cultivate and spotlight the voices of women behind the camera, in order to provide emerging female filmmakers with the support to realize their creative vision.

We spoke with Gabourey about her film - read more below, and join us for tea, treats, a screening and conversation on Sunday!

Gabourey Sidibe

Gabourey Sidibe

NFF: What peaked your interest in directing? Was it this story specifically, or had you been thinking about it for awhile? 

Gabourey: One of my producers, Kia Perry had the idea to adapt Nina Simone's song, Four Women, into a short film and she let me hear the song and I could see the entire story unfolding as I listened. Listening to this song, is what peaked the director in me. I had never thought about directing before that moment. 

NFF: Are there directors whose style you wanted to emulate, and/or directors who inspire you?

Gabourey: I'm inspired by many of the directors I've worked with like Sanna Hamri, Victoria Mahoney and Alfonso Gomez-Rejon. I'm also inspired by directors I want to work with directors who change the way people of color see themselves like Ava DuVurnay and Dee Rees.

NFF: Were you familiar with the Nina Simone song prior to the film and/or did you use it for inspiration in any way while you were preparing?

Gabourey: I'd never heard the song before the idea of turning it into a film but while prepping the film, I listened to the song over and over and googled Nina Simone performances pretty much non stop because we wanted the world of the film to feel and look as much like a world Nina Simone would fit into as possible. We wanted the film to feel the way Miss Simone's made us feel with her music. 

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

Gabourey: What surprised me is how much I loved directing. How much I loved making decisions about everything. Big decisions from how a love scene should be shot, to small decisions like the color of nail polish on a teenagers hand. They are both really important decisions to make because every decision drives the entire story forward.  

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

Gabourey: I'm so excited to show the film in Nantucket! For one, I've always wanted to visit Nantucket. Among other locations, I've planned many excursions and weekend trips to Nantucket in computer class when I was a broke teenager in high school who obviously couldn't afford to go on an actual trip at all. I've always felt drawn to the beauty and serenity of Nantucket and finally I get to visit it in the most amazing way! Through my film! Through art.  And what my art is intending to do, is to encourage audiences to walk away feeling a greater connection to the humanity, the sensitivity and the grace of the quiet struggles our neighbor shoulder.  By telling the stories of these four women Nina Simone sang about, we are honoring Nina, we honor our mothers, our communities and ourselves. We hope to encourage the audience to do the same after watching our film. 

Five Questions With... Directors Pulkit Datta, Liam Harris, and Peter Stanley-Ward, Directors of KIDS SHORTS

We have a screening for the whole family! A selection of both animated and live action films are in our KIDS SHORTS program - we spoke with directors Pulkit Datta (WISHFUL WHISKERS), Liam Harris (PERCHED), and Peter Stanley-Ward (LITTERBUGS) about their films. Read more below, and join us at the Dreamland 9:45am on Saturday, 6/24!

NFF (To all): Your film is in the "Kids Shorts" block - did you set out to make a kid-friendly film?

Pulkit: I didn’t really plan on making a children’s film. It organically turned out that way. When the idea for the story first came to me, I just wrote the script out of a burst of inspiration. But I think because the story was always from the perspective of a little girl, and there’s so much innocence and wonder in her world, it became labeled as a children’s film by people who were reading the script to give me feedback, and how it was evolving. It’s always surprising and exciting when a script starts taking its own path, so then I just embraced it as a kid-friendly film. And I’m so glad I did, because so far it’s been a hit with all the kids we’ve shown it to.

Liam: We didn’t specifically go out with the idea to make the film for a specific aged range, we intended right from the start that this would be a film for all ages. Having grown up with animated family adventures, I wanted to follow suit and give the audience the opportunity of experiencing the film with each another, no matter where you are from or how old you are.

Peter: We did and we also wanted the whole family to enjoy it. We wanted to make a live-action film with an all kid cast. This is something that was common when we were growing up but isn’t so much these days. There are lots of animations for kids now, which we love as well, but wanted to make a film with real kids in for this generation.

NFF (To Pulkit): Can you talk a little about your inspiration?

Pulkit: WISHFUL WHISKERS is a story that's close to my heart. It was inspired by the time I've spent playing with my nephew and niece. I loved experiencing their limitless imagination - they can conjure up entire worlds around them, using the most mundane objects and furniture. That, to me, was incredibly fascinating and fun. So a big part of the inspiration to write the script was from playing games and make-believe with them. 

The whole mustache angle came in because it’s such a strong and identifiable symbol, and has been over time, around the world. Mustaches signify so many things in different places. It’s a universal thing. And it’s so intertwined with gender identity. Everyone likes to have fun by pretending to have a mustache, even women. So I thought, what if in the world of the film, the little girl actually wants a mustache? It’s a way to play with gender boundaries within the context of a children’s film. And it’s fun! 

NFF (To Liam): Which shows or animators influenced you most?

Liam: I would say one of my most influential animators would be Richard Williams (Who Framed Roger Rabbit). He is one of the original pioneers of 2D animation and at the ripe old age of 84 he still animates on paper today, which is extraordinary! Not only that he has since taken on the role of tutor to thousands of up and coming animators, which is truly inspiring. His recent film ‘Prologue’ was nominated for a BAFTA and an Oscar which like I said at his age is really unbelievable, I can’t say enough how much belief that gives a young animation filmmaker like myself. I hope to still be as enthusiastic and devoted about animating when I reach his age!

NFF (To Peter): The production design is so wonderfully specific. Did you have the world in mind when you were originally conceiving the shoot?

Peter: Thank you and yes, we did have a very clear idea of what we wanted this world to look and feel like. This began with lots of preparation and included mood boards that evoked the tone and palette we wanted, and a location scout to make sure we found the right place. Marie Lana was our production designer on Litterbugs and she understood this world totally. The sets she built for us were amazing and it took our breath away every time we walked onset. We also wanted a rusty metal vibe throughout the whole movie, so very deliberately, virtually every frame has some sort of rusty metal in it.

NFF (To all): Why are you excited to show the film in Nantucket, and/or what do you hope Nantucket families will take away?

Pulkit: I’ve heard great things about Nantucket Film Festival, so I was excited when WISHFUL WHISKERS was selected for the festival. I’m always fascinated by how kids react to this film because they’re always very honest. And so far, kids (and adults) have been picking up on different themes and moments of the film. So I’m looking forward to screening the film for Nantucket families to see what jumps out at them. It's a film that I hope encourages and inspires people to think beyond traditional boundaries of social norms and re-embrace their inner child. And above all that, it’s a joyful film, and for me, a successful screening is simply when the film makes the audience smile. 

Liam: I’m super excited to be showing Perched at Nantucket, I feel the location and audience there is perfectly fitting for sharing our story. With the beautiful harbors and long history of the whaling community, I believe our mariner themed story suits Nantucket just right. I hope that the families in attendance take away exciting conversations and a joint experience of laughter and fun whilst watching it. The film showcases bravery and the ability do the right thing and hopefully that message gets across and people take away a positive outlook towards their lives. (Also that seagull’s aren’t all that bad!)

Peter: It’s amazing to have our little film go to places like Nantucket. We wanted kids from around the globe to see this, but we never dreamed it would reach so many families all over the world. We are very proud of the whole film and the message against bullying and in support of friendship is universal, and it seems to mean a lot to many people. Nantucket is a great festival and it’s a real honour to be a part of this year’s line-up. We’re especially excited to be in the kid’s short section. I think if the audience can have just a taste of the wonder that the films I grew up with gave me, then everybody who made Litterbugs would be very happy with that.

Five Questions With... Geremy Jasper, Writer/Director of PATTI CAKE$ and New Voices in Screenwriting Award Recipient

First-time writer/director Geremy Jasper—a musician and past music video director—showcases his music chops in this brash and bombastic story of unlikely MC Patti “Killa P” Dombrowski. In working-class “dirty Jersey,” Patti and her best friend and music partner, Hareesh, dream of escaping their dead-end jobs and pursuing their dreams of hip-hop superstardom. When they meet reclusive Goth newcomer Basterd, he provides the missing link to elevate their sound. Breakout talent Danielle Macdonald plays Patti with the magnetism and stage presence of a seasoned recording artist, matched by the prodigious talents of Bridget Everett as Patti’s disillusioned mother, who saw her own aspirations of stardom pass by long ago.

Geremy Jasper, who will also be recognized with the New Voices in Screenwriting Award at the Screenwriters Tribute on Friday, June 23, gave us a few minutes of his time to chat about PATTI CAKE$. Take a look below, and join us for the only screening on Saturday, June 24 at 2:45pm!

NFF: How did your background in music and music videos affect or influence your use of light and sound/music in the film?

Geremy: Hmmm. The film encompasses two worlds - an objective rough & raw Jersey reality and Patti’s subjective fantasy world. These two different worlds are lit differently and sound different. One is very natural, minimal lighting and “real” sounding while the other is bold, colorful and kaleidoscopic. My DP Fede Cesca and I were not shy in pushing more color and more smoke into a fantasy scenes. My music video background gave me a love for and vivid colors and surrealism but also a handle on how to capture musical performances that feel dynamic and visceral.  It’s magic catching a song on film. 

I wrote around 25 original songs for the film, so sound was a major focus in how things were shot, edited and mixed. There a many performances that needed to feel raw and authentic and at other times take over the film almost like score.

NFF: Can you talk a little about casting, and how you found the incredible Danielle Macdonald?

Geremy: The character of Patti Dombrowski is so specific physically, emotionally, and musically that it was going to take someone incredibly special and gifted to play her. Luckily my producer Noah remembered Dani from a small role she had in a film called The East. She looked IDENTICAL to the image of Patti I had in my brain so she joined me in Utah for the Sundance Director’s Lab even though she was Australian and had never rapped before in her life. She’s so brilliant and hard working it didn't faze me so we spent the next 2 years training her to rap while developing the character. Dani carries the film on her shoulders and I think she should win every award on the planet.  

NFF: Tell us a little about your inspiration for the film. Do you have a connection to New Jersey?

Geremy: I grew up a chubby blonde, hip hop loving kid from suburban Jersey who filled secret notebooks with endless rhymes. At 23 I was stuck living in my parent’s basement working crappy jobs while nursing an unbelievable hunger to move to NYC and be a musician. I was also raised around big, sarcastic Jersey women who were always called “The Boss” as in you wanted / needed something, “Go ask the Boss.” All this got mixed up into what would become the world of PATTI CAKE$. 

NFF: Are there directors (or musicians) whose style or body of work have influenced you as a filmmaker?

Geremy: Oh yes, they all seem to be named BOB: Bob Dylan, Bob Fosse, Bob Redford, and Bobby Digital (AKA The RZA from WuTang).

NFF: Why are you excited to screen in Nantucket, and what do you hope Nantucket audiences take away?

Geremy: Growing up in Jersey my family used to spend summer vacation at a trailer park in the Poconos (no joke) and to me the idea of “Nantucket” seemed like a mythic East Coast paradise - as well as well as a wonderful word for limericks. This’ll be my first time on the island & I couldn't be more excited. My hope is that the audience will be transported into an exotic blue collar fantasia and will be dancing in the aisles. 

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!


The mischievous monkey Curious George made his first appearance more than 75 years ago and has been entertaining readers young and old ever since. If not for a pair of handmade bicycles, however, the beloved children’s book character might never have made it out of Nazi-occupied Europe. Brought to life with whimsical animation, MONKEY BUSINESS celebrates the power of storytelling as it recounts how refugee couple Hans and Margret Rey created an enduring classic.



NFF: Did you read Curious George growing up? Did you know much about the history of Hans and Margret or the books prior to working on the film?

Ema: Yes, I read Curious George growing up in Japan. I just assumed he was a Japanese monkey, and it was only many years later when I realized he was so international. I didn't know anything about the authors of Curious George - I think we rarely get the chance to ask, "who wrote our great children's books?' and once I asked, what I found was incredible.

NFF: Why and/or how did you make the decision to incorporate animation into the storytelling?

Ema: We decided that we wanted to tell the story by asking ourselves, "How would have Hans and Margret told their own story?" Since they had created such an iconic illustrated world, it was natural for us to look to animation to create parts of their story also. We decided to animate the anecdotes they told about their lives, while using archival footage to provide a context of the times they lived in. Sometimes, like when they were escaping from the Nazis, the stories they told and the reality of what it must have been like, were not the same. We wanted to highlight this visually by using mixed-media.

NFF: Both Hans and Margret had talents and interests in other areas - do you think had they been born in another time they still would have found their way to writing childrens' books

Ema: Great question. Hans was curious about everything not only was an artist but and had an academic mind - he was interested in being a doctor when he was young, and later on his life wrote books about stars and constellations. Margret also studied various things, including advertising and photography. It's hard to know if at a different time they would have still ended up writing children's books, but it's certain that their chosen profession, and the fact that they worked together, brought out the best in each other. Hans was so gifted but lacked the discipline that Margret brought to the team. He drew and came up with the ideas, while, she did the writing and editing, as well negotiated all the deals with the publishers.

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

Ema: This being my first feature documentary, there were many challenges in the project. I had to figure out a way to fund the film without letting go of the creative vision I had for the film. We did a Kickstarter campaign that was harder than any other aspect of making the film. We raised over $186,000 from almost 1500 supporters, and receiving so much support gave me even more motivation to get the film done and to do it well. I also ended up directing, producing and editing the film, even though as an editor I always tell my directors to hire a separate editor. So in coming up with the structure of the film I sometimes got lost. Although we ended up with an 80 minute film, I remember I thinking at a certain moment "maybe the film should just be five minutes long..." I'm glad I had a team of collaborators helping me through everything, particularly in those darker moments.

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

Ema: I very much hope that the audience in Nantucket will enjoy and be inspired by the story we are telling. Very little was known about the Curious George authors, and they are people worth knowing. They were as adventurous and resilient as the little monkey the created, and their optimism and curiosity triumphed over the life-threatening situations they faced. I also hope the audience enjoys the way we chose to tell the story with the mix-media elements of the animation and archival materials.

Five Questions With... Narrative Short Filmmakers from THROUGH THE FIRE

NARRATIVE SHORTS: THROUGH THE FIRE screens Friday morning at 9 AM at Bennett Hall. We spoke with several filmmakers included in this program:

  • David Brundige, Writer/Director of LAURELS
  • Charlotte Barrett and Sean Fallon, Writers/Directors of THE PHANTOM MENACE
  • Chris Carfizzi and Hilary Mann, Co-Writers of THE FINGER
  • Aude Cuenod, Writer/Director and Benjamin Friedman, Producer of SCRAP DOLLS
  • Jeannie Donohoe, Writer/Director of GAME
  • Micah Perta, Director of DAYTIME NOON
  • Holly Voges, Writer/Director of FELL

And ok, there are technically seven questions here (one for each filmmaker!)...but who's counting? Read more below and join us on Friday!


NFF: The film pokes fun at the festival world. Have you had bad festival experiences to draw from, or is this all imagination? 

David: Artist egos are so fragile, and my characters, one a notable feature director and the other a newbie short film director, react quite differently to their film festival granting them a shared hotel room.I love going to film festivals because the audiences, filmmakers, and programmers are so great, but there's a side of festivals, especially from afar, that creates prestige which can overshadow the celebration. We artists sometimes get distracted by the validation that comes with selection and awards.


NFF: The location and production design is super specific to the story telling. Did you have to construct any of it, or was it pre-existing?

Charlotte and Sean: We shot the entire short at Frank & Sons Collectible Show, a twice weekly comic convention in the City of Industry, about 30 miles south of Los Angeles. Most conventions have a singular theme be it Star Wars, Star Trek, Comic Books, etc., but Frank & Sons is a wonderful hodgepodge of everything you could imagine collecting like Disney World Pins, 80s WWF action figures, and McDonalds happy meal toys. That diversity gave us the flexibility to stage scenes in thematically relevant settings. We added certain elements to scenes, like the American Flag at the end of the movie, but the only location we had to construct was the Celebrity Autograph Area.

However, being a low budget short meant we had to shoot on days Frank & Son was open. So every scene except for when Jim gets Robert Picardo’s autograph was shot on the live convention floor. It was completely chaotic and a lot of fun to shoot an emotional and personal story amid a working convention. All the background extras were just convention goers who had no idea they were going to be in a movie, but gave their permission by entering the building (we had signs posted!).


NFF: The Finger is in the "Through the Fire" group - without giving anything away, how do you think that theme relates to your film as a larger theme?

Chris and Hilary: Our guiding principle in writing was this: ‘You admire a character for trying more than for their successes’*. In The Finger, we took the most momentous night of Luke and Laura’s relationship so far and made it as difficult as we could imagine. The real love in The Finger is found when they try again and again to make it work despite the challenges.
* from Pixar’s Rules for Storytelling


NFF: How did the film come together? 

Benjamin: Aude brought her inspiration to Detroit to develop the narrative further. It’s there that we met and collaborated for the first time.

Aude: I was studying film at Wesleyan University when I met a 70-year-old artist who made art out of abandoned objects. I was fascinated with how he transformed objects that others had thrown away into beautiful sculptures. The artist told me he had once tried to help a young boy from a broken home by teaching him how to make art and I found the story of this intergenerational friendship and connection through art beautiful. I was drawn to Detroit mostly because of the amazing art I saw there during a scouting trip: specifically Tyree Guyton’s Heidelberg Project and Olayami Dabls’ African Bead museum. Most of the cast/crew was Detroit based and it was my first time working with them.


NFF: Your lead performer is incredible - did she already know how to play basketball, or did you have to teach her? Did you look for an actor who knew the sport, or was that not as important as a good actor?

Jeannie: Nicole Williams was terrific to work with in every way -- she's an amazing person, actress, and of course, a great basketball player.  The character AJ Green is in high school, but Nicole actually already finished college, and she played basketball throughout (at Nevada).  The casting of her role in particular was a tall order.  It was a huge priority for me to find someone who could play basketball extremely well. I didn't want to cheat the shots or double the action with a stand-in player.  I also think the lived-in experience -- that Nicole has really played basketball at a high level for so long -- was essential on an emotional level within the production. I believe that lends an important authenticity to the role. In addition to assessing skill, I was looking for a compelling, interesting actor who could also pass as a boy and look high school age.  Nicole checked all the boxes and was instantly a great collaborator. This film was her acting debut, and I'm grateful to our casting directors Lisa Pantone and Gigi Berry for discovering her.


NFF: Shooting in a car is notoriously hard - can you talk a little about that challenge?

Micah: I come from the commercial world, so we shot on a process trailer, which is totally complicated, but also a much easier way to direct talent. Basically we had a caravan, starting with a cop car followed by a union flatbed truck with the car and camera operators mounted on top, followed by a car for hair and make up and art department.  Every time we cut we would pull over to the side of the road.  But I was able to watch the actors on a monitor and talk to the them through a walkie (and not have to be in the trunk).  It was fun, and worked great, but I will probably do something with less car next time around.


NFF: The film is deliberately ambiguous. Do you prefer storytelling that asks questions, rather than provides answers?

HOLLY: I prefer stories that are challenging. Projects that provoke the audience to ask questions related to the story and well as themselves are most interesting to me. I don’t think this necessarily means not giving answers, but leaving some room for interpretation means a more active audience, which I definitely prefer. 

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. 

Five Questions With... Christopher Radcliff and Lauren Wolkstein, Writers/Directors of THE STRANGE ONES

Young Sam (James Freedson-Jackson) and older, rugged Nick (Alex Pettyfer) are seemingly on an innocent, brotherly road trip into the woods. But the younger boy has disturbing nightmares that suggest all is not as it seems. Are they on the run, and from what? Is Nick the quiet boy’s protector, his captor, or something else entirely? For their feature debut, Christopher Radcliff and Lauren Wolkstein have crafted an engrossing, atmospheric mystery.

We spoke with Christopher and Lauren about THE STRANGE ONES - read more below and catch a screening on Thursday, June 22 at 9:15 PM and/or Saturday, June 24 at 4:00 PM!

NFF: The film is deliberately vague. Do you prefer to let audiences draw their own conclusions, rather than provide explicit exposition?

Christopher & Lauren: Yes -  we tend to be more drawn to films that ask questions rather than give out answers; we think it's more fascinating to consider multiple dimensions and possibilities for what a film might be, and we hope our film has this sort of quality. Rather than being vague, we wanted the film to be quite precise in its mysteriousness, if that makes sense... everything the viewer sees and hears in the film is there for a reason and we hope that it adds up to a beguiling and satisfying experience for anyone who watches it, even if it takes different shapes for different people.

NFF: The atmosphere/setting is such a prevalent part of the film. Where did you shoot, and how did you decide on your location/s?

Christopher & Lauren: We shot in upstate New York, mostly in the Catskill region and Hudson Valley. The script was written with pretty specific locations in mind, and they all hold different meanings that relate the characters and their journey.  They are two people journeying away from civilization and into an unknown future, so the places they go naturally needed to mirror this in terms of being both beautiful and seductive in a way, but also treacherous and full of mystery.

NFF: How did you work together as co-directors? Were there pre-determined work or shots you divided up, or was it more in the moment decision-making?

Christopher & Lauren: When we co-direct we basically do everything together. We both direct solo as well, so we are both pretty opinionated and are always thinking of all aspects of job, so it never felt right to divide up tasks in any way. We prep and shotlist really extensively together, so we have a really unified vision for the whole thing going in and this in turn allows us to give each other the space on set to make decisions in the moment.

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

Christopher & Lauren: The most challenging aspect of our film was probably making sure that each scene presented multiple dimensions, in addition to figuring out when to reveal pertinent information about the characters' past while still keeping the film in the present tense. We were surprised in the edit process that certain scenes we shot didn't fit into the natural progression and pace of the film we were making, and therefore these scenes ultimately had to be cut. Since our film is a mystery that is largely left for the audience to solve, we were very aware of how each scene would be interpreted in multiple ways when we were writing, shooting, and editing the film. Because of these challenges, it was a very ambitious first feature film for us.

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

Christopher & Lauren:Nantucket is a really special place and the festival is known to have excellent programming, so we're really excited to be included in that. We hope the audiences there take away a sense of intrigue and wonder with the film's story and our approach to it, and find it to be something they continue to think about even after the film ends.