Five Questions With... Matt Kay (LITTLE MISS SUMO)

In LITTLE MISS SUMO, female sumo wrestling champion Hiyori confronts obstacles both inside and outside the ring in an attempt to change Japan's national sport forever.

We spoke to director Matt Kay about the film - check it out, and see the film at Nantucket Film Festival on Thurs, June 20 at 9am!

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!

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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 www.timwilkime.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?

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... Ron Eyal (THE THERAPIST)

In THE THERAPIST, an unstable therapist is haunted by his own issues while struggling with a challenging patient.

We spoke with writer/director Ron Eyal about his film playing tomorrow morning, on opening day of #NFF2019! Read more below, and check out the “Time Warp” short films at 10:30am at Bennett Hall!

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

RON: I'm fascinated by therapy and therapists. The power of empathy that a skilled therapist has should be an inspiration to any film director! I had a daydream about a troubled therapist who probably needs more help than his patients, though I can't say much more without spoiling some twists. My co-writer Eleanor Burke and I also took a lot of inspiration from our complicated relationships with our real-life mothers. (Love you, mom!)

NFF: Your film is in the "Time Warp" block. Are you nostalgic for the past, or hopeful for the future?

RON: Yeah, I'm a bit of a nostalgic guy. I have to admit that I love going to thrift stores and looking at old, mostly useless junk. I've got a  morbid streak too and I've thought a lot about the traces people leave behind with each other when they die, and how those traces make us fuller and amplify our instinct for connection.

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

RON: Making this short was a great way for me to experiment and play with new ideas. It can still take a heck of a long time to make a longish short though, so I'm thinking for my next one I'll try to cram it all in under 5 minutes...

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

RON: I'm currently developing THE THERAPIST for television.

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?

RON: I'm so excited to screen in Nantucket. Even though the therapist in my short has an experience that's a bit out of the ordinary, I hope the audiences can feel a bit of themselves in the film too.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Five Questions With... Hannah Elless (NORA EPHRON GOES TO PRISON)

In NORA EPHRON GOES TO PRISON, two women from different worlds meet in unexpected circumstances, but an unlikely friendship blooms based on their common love of Nora Ephron.

Take a look at our video interview with Director Hannah Elless, and catch the film in the “Laugh Out Loud” block of shorts on Fri, June 21 at 9:15am and Sat, June 22 at 4:15pm!

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 www.urvashipathania.com 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.

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Five Questions With... Jamy Wheless (THE PIG ON THE HILL)

In the kids’ short THE PIG ON THE HILL, narrated by Pierce Brosnan, Pig and Duck are next-door neighbors, but worlds apart.

We spoke with filmmaker Jamy Wheless about the film. Read more with him below, and bring the whole family to the screening on Saturday, June 22 at 9am!

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

JAMY: The inspiration of the film came from the children's book written by John Kelly.  We fell in love with the two characters and the message of how to simply "get along". Personally, growing up with "barriers" in my life, the "bridge" is symbolic of how we should reach out and be intentional in each other's lives. No walls, just bridges!

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

JAMY: Animation is the highest possible art form in my perspective. You have the ability to tell any story with any type of character. It transcends through any judgements and allows not only the creators but also the audiences to connect and relate universally.

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

JAMY: The biggest advantages of making a short is time and money. Feature Films can take up to 4 years to produce and can prove costly. But short films allow the opportunity to complete a story, finance it, distribute it, and show that you have the ability to tell a story worth telling. The disadvantage is that it forces you to condense a story arc into less than ten minutes which is probably a good thing.

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

JAMY: We are currently in development working on another children's TV series that we hope to partner with a distributor by end of this year. We are also working on an Augmented Reality project that is exciting. And we are currently in talks with a Distributor for "The Pig on the Hill" TV series that we are super excited about!

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?

JAMY: I had hoped we would be joining everyone at the Nantucket Film Festival but logistically we couldn't make it work. Nantucket is one of the most beautiful places in the world and a favorite spot that my wife and I love to visit. Our daughter went to Rhode Island School of Design and we traveled out there many times and enjoyed the surrounding areas.

Our hope is that the Nantucket audience will walk away with a smile. And both children and adults will be encouraged to work through their differences and build authentic, lifelong friendships!