Daily updates from the first annual AFI DALLAS International Film Festival presented by Target, founding sponsor Victory Park, March 22 to April 1, 2007

Friday, March 23, 2007

Interview with Director of El Cortez

Stephen Purvis gives Pop Syndicate the lowdown on his new film, El Cortez, starring Lou Diamond Phillips. Read the interview here. The film screens at AFI DALLAS Friday March 23, 7:30pm, and Saturday March 24, 1:45pm.


More Images of Opening Night

Melissa George at AFI DALLAS (Hudson Photographic)

Local photographers continue to upload images from last night's opening night gala events at the AFI DALLAS International Film Festival.
  • Lauren Bacall 1 | 2 | 3 | 4
  • Ron Livingston 1 | 2 | 3
  • Bill Paxton 1 | 2 | 3 | 4
  • Sydney Pollack 1 | 2 | 3
  • Bullseye the Target Dog 1 | 2 | 3

Wet Deck Conversations

[UPDATED March 30, 1:00pm] Learn about the filmmaking process from some of the best in the industry. Join us at the W Hotel's 16th floor infinity pool [map] for conversations with filmmakers surrounded by panoramic views of Dallas. Free and open to the public as space permits.

Friday March 23, 5:00pm - Art Imitating Life: Portraying a Real, Living Person Onscreen - A conversation with Steven Sawalich, the director of Music Within, along with Ron Livingston and the film's real-life subject, Richard Pimental.

Saturday March 24, 5:00pm - Pointing Your Camera at Dallas/Fort Worth - With Todd Simms (Dallas Producers Associations) and Bill Paxton (The Good Life).

Sunday March 25, 5:00pm - Marketing Your Movie on MySpace - With Elliot Kotek (Moving Pictures) and Stephen Purvis (El Cortez).

[UPDATED] Thursday March 29, 5:00pm - Finding the Audience for the Message Movie - With Missy Schwartz (Entertainment Weekly), Joseph Greco and Joe Pantoliano (Canvas).

[UPDATED] Friday March 30, 5:00pm - Horror & Comedy: A Winning Combination? - With Elvis Mitchell, Amy Davidson (Netherbeast Incorporated) and Leah Milani (Wrestle Maniac).


Coverage Roundup: March 23

  • AFI DALLAS Film Festival Kicks Off [Variety] "In a world that already claims more than 4,000 film festivals worldwide, the AFI DALLAS International Film Festival may have created something new: First, the sponsors. Then, the films."

  • Hope, and Photo Ops [Dallas Morning News] " The red carpet in front of the Majestic Theatre rolled on for almost 100 feet Thursday night, though the packed-in press jockeying along the rope could have stretched for another city block. If the AFI Dallas International Film Festival sees a similar demand for seats at its 90 features as it did opening night, the inaugural event will go down as an unqualified success."

  • Photo Gallery: AFI DALLAS Opening Night [Pegasus News] "It was great to see a big turnout for the first night of the fest, and it got even greater when the celebrities started arriving and commenced looking just as much like celebrities as we'd hoped they would."

  • Video: AFI Brings Hollywood to Dallas [CBS 11] "Organizers of the festival say it's a first step to putting Dallas on the film map."

  • Film festival comes to Dallas [SMU Daily Campus]

  • AFI Film Festival Brings Hollywood Feel To Dallas [NBC5i]

  • AFI DALLAS Kicks Off [QuickDFW]


Jack Valenti Discussion Postponed

Due to a personal emergency, Jack Valenti is unable to attend the AFI DALLAS International Film Festival on March 24. Valenti's discussion, Jack Valenti Talks Film, scheduled as part of AT&T TALK/SHOW, March 24, 4:30pm, is postponed. Please check back (or subscribe to this newsfeed) for possible re-scheduling of Valenti's Star Award ceremony and public discussion.
UPDATE: Valenti suffers stroke; prognosis good [Hollywood Reporter]

In the March 23 Daily News Print Edition

Look for print editions of the official AFI DALLAS Daily News at venues and theaters all around Dallas. In the March 23, 2007, edition:

Spotlight on the Texas Competition

If there's a perfect reflection of how the Internet has helped filmmakers, it's Eve of Understanding, screening as part of the Texas Competition at the AFI DALLAS International Film Festival.

Alyson Shelton's feature about a woman coping with the death of her mother and her own bad decisions, was put together on a shoestring, a prayer and a good dose of Web 2.0.

Relying on the goodwill and enthusiasm of others, Alyson and her Open Plan Films crew accepted donations via her Web site and sold them on ebBy to raise funds for the film.

"We started this whole thing with a blog in 2004," says Alyson. "And now we have more than 1,000 people. A lot of filmmakers feel alienated, but we're not working in a vacuum. We're interested in this community that wants us to do well. It's about more than ticket sales. And I want to continue to make films this way."

The film shot on locations in Katy and Austin before taking to the lonely highways of the West Texas desert, as the main character, Donna, makes her way to the inspiring red rocks of Arizona.

"We shot in Texas because we have a lot of support there. A lot of friends and family that we could rely on," says Alyson. Her husband, CODEY's family lives here, as do many of the cast and crew. The location is also a character in story.

"There's one scene where she's sitting on the car and just looking out into the emptiness. The scenery reflects the isolated place she’s in," says Alyson.


All Indie Family

Molly Parker of WHO LOVES THE SUN

Discussing the film, WHO LOVES THE SUN (screening Saturday March 24, 7:15pm, and Sunday March 25, 2:15pm) with someone can quickly answer the question, "Who loves independent film?"

The Canadian production with a modest budget, written and directed by Matt Bissonnette, stars his wife (and indie darling) Molly Parker along with Adam Scott and Lukas Haas (who also stars in SWEDISH AUTO screening at AFI DALLAS). Beyond that, the film throws a combustible triangle together – two young men who were childhood friends and the woman who came between them causing the man she married to disappear for five years – then confounds the audiences expectations at every turn.

We decided to explore the makings of a "family film" and filming with family - independent style - with Bissonnette, Parker and Scott.

Matt, you have stated that you were inspired to write WHO LOVES THE SUN by Tom Waits' song, Come On Up to the House, which was concerned with acceptance and surrender in the face of desire’s demands and life’s lousy odds. Was there a personal reason or outlook on life that allowed that song to speak to you and inspire you in such a grand way?

No, not really, I just liked that song a lot. Though I suppose my lack of success pursuing a professional hockey career may have colored my thinking.

Adam, what were your initial thoughts about Matt's script for WHO LOVES THE SUN?

I thought it was lovely. it made me feel nostalgic for my 20s, the time in your life when you know you're going to have to start giving a shit really soon, but you have some time left to just have some beers, listen to records and lie around. That is what the characters are dealing with, the consequences of getting too caught up in that great little grace period we all take in life at some point.

Molly, your part in the film was written with you in mind. How much feedback did you give Matt throughout the scriptwriting process?

Lots and lots and lots. All positive. I leave the "crit" for people he doesn’t live with.

Do you feel he is any more collaborative or open to suggestion from you than anyone else during filming?

Matt directed me telepathically. It can't be helped when you know someone so well. He could just look at me after a take and I would know if he bought what I had done or not. Once we had to leave set to "talk" about some direction I got. I think the crew thought we were making out. Mostly, it was a very different experience to work with someone I'm so close to. You don't have the luxury of mystery, which the other actors do have. But you can trust that when the director believes you in a moment, it is working.

Matt, how does your relationship with Molly give you insight into working with the other actors?

It teaches me not to be afraid of them.

Did you and Molly meet while making the film, LOOKING FOR LEONARD?

No, we actually met at a film festival party.

How did the relationship grow from that meeting?

Understandably, the relationship has grown a whole lot better since then.

Adam, what was your experience working with Matt and being directed by him?

Working with Matt was a lot of fun. We got along great from the beginning. It never really felt like work because he is such a laid back person, and not precious with his work. Very collaborative.

Did the fact that Matt and Molly are married add to the familial feeling that is routinely developed on the film set?

It was like working at a family barbecue all summer. During our lunch break we would go swimming in the lake, smoke cigarettes, lay in the sun, listen to music. It really was a great way to spend the summer.

Matt, there are more than a few instances where the characters' reactions to a revelation or crisis in their relationships flies in the face of what film and television audiences have learned to expect today. How much of this was in your original script and how much grew out of the work of the cast?

Most of that was in the original script. Luckily, I was working with pretty smart people, and they quickly understood the tone we were trying to achieve.

For you, what are the benefits or drawbacks of making a film in Canada versus Hollywood or the United States?

I've only made films in Canada, so I can’t really contrast it with the American model. My experience in Canada has been very good, Telefilm, who pays for the movies, and Christal, my distributor, have been very supportive and allowed me to make the films I want, so I have no complaints; in fact, it’s really pretty awesome.

Molly, you have been regarded as one of independent film’s female standard bearers for quite awhile thanks to films like THE CENTER OF THE WORLD, WAKING THE DEAD and PURE. Have you noticed a change in your profile industry-wise or fan-wise with the critical and popular success of the television series DEADWOOD?

I did two episodes of SIX FEET UNDER, after having made probably 30 indie films, and people are still coming up to me in supermarkets saying, "aren’t you the rabbi from SIX FEET UNDER?" Television, even HBO, is incredibly powerful in that so many people see it. So, yes, more people know who I am now. But I still love making movies, especially small indie movies, more than anything. I am looking forward to getting back to that again now that DEADWOOD is over.

You've been going back and forth between film and television projects recently. For you personally, what are the pros and cons of each?

I love how personal making a film is. Especially on this level. To work on something that everyone, including the guy who is driving the van (or the barge, in this case), has actually read and cares about feels really great. Then it becomes a true collaboration because you are counting on everyone involved. TV is fascinating in that it keeps unraveling in front of you and you have to keep living into the moment, which is always new and a surprise and if you have a good writer, like we did on DEADWOOD, it is a real pleasure. But it is not collaboration.

You and Matt just recently had a baby. Do you foresee him writing parts for the baby too? If so, would you get competitive about that?

Matt has a script in which there is a part for our dog Sean, and I definitely felt jealous about that. But if Will wants to act, he's going to have to wait until he's grown up. I don’t think babies should work. And acting, no matter what they tell you, is work.

Seriously, Matt - do you still have to go through Molly's agents to get her to read your scripts?

Yes, and her manager as well. They are all very mean.

Bissonnette will appear at WHO LOVES THE SUN's premiere screening on Saturday, March 24th.


Shorts Program 2

Still from Lump, part of Shorts Program 2

Making a film is full of complexities. There's the script to write, the actors to hire, the director to direct. At least full-length feature filmmakers have the luxury of time to tell their story. Makers of shorts have no such luck. But many, as shown by the films in Shorts Program 2, take advantage of the immediacy of the format to wow their audiences with inventive plots and intense characters that just don't work in features.

For instance, Shorts 2 begins with Lilah Vandenburgh's BITCH, a painfully funny look at "love at first sneer." The story begins as the main character, the "bitch" if you will, doles out heavy helpings of smack-down on hipsters, posers and all-around idiots.

"You know that annoying guy you overhear at the MoMA or the Inwood expounding about how indie or cultured he is?" asks Vandenburgh. "Well, Bitch, a pop-culture vigilante, just punches that guy in the mouth. She don’t care."

But what happens when Bitch does care? Can she overcome her sudden infatuation with her apparent equal - a spiteful shoplifter who lifts records - and still retain her Bitch-iness?

Next, stick around for THE LISTENING DEAD, a short but sweet silent horror film that traces the marital woes of a cruel couple who live in a haunted Gothic mansion. When Nigel, an obsessed composer, chooses to spend the night slaving over his piano, his wife, Karen, not only curses at him, but casts a curse upon him, which causes Nigel's phantom muse to seek vengeance.

Asked why he chose the silent route, writer and director Phil Mucci replies simply, "Sound is so overused in film. Especially nowadays, where it is [used] to scare the audience with blasts of Dolby 5.1. But these techniques kind of cheapen the experience."

If it seems Mucci has put a lot of thought into this film, it's because he has. "Having worked for years in advertising, it started really killing my spirit. Making The Listening Dead, in many ways,
saved me from a creative and emotional vortex."

Moving from the horrors of the mystical to the horrors of the medical, you will find Faye Jackson’s LUMP. Christine (powerfully played by Lara Belmont) finds she has a lump (a fibroadenoma, to be exact) in her breast, and doctors are forced to operate. But each time one lump is removed, Christine finds another in its place. And another.

"In regards to the lump itself," says Jackson, "I wanted to create that feeling of dread, that something-is-seriously-wrong-but-I-don’t-know-what feeling, and I liked the idea of one small persistent thing slowly driving the lead character crazy."

For her inspiration, Jackson cites her own unnerving medical experiences. "I was once operated on by a surgeon I never met (before or after the operation, I can only assume we weren’t introduced during), which I found creepy and did partly inspire this film."

As for the rest of the program, you will find a fine selection of shorts filmed across the sea and across the border.

In WANTED…, German filmmaker Arturo Salvador depicts a woman full of longing who loses herself in newspaper personal ads, while British director Brian Hennigan's DUCK MAN shows one man's poignant quest to become the city's duck feeder while enjoying its high-rolling perks.

A dark secret lies at the heart of Irish filmmaker Conor Morrissey's LAST NIGHT, and it slowly drives a couple's marriage apart.

Meanwhile, in TROLL CONCERTO, two unlikely characters are drawn together - one a cellist named Frida and the other a renegade troll - in a work by Canadian filmmaker Alexandre Franchi.

Shorts Program 2 screen March 24, 2:15pm, and March 25, 9:45 pm, at AFC.

by Chad Jones, staff writer, AFI DALLAS Daily News


Director of Pop Foul Tells His Truths

A boy accidentally sees his father take a beating in Moon Molson's short film, Pop Foul

Moon Molson’s short film, POP FOUL begins innocently enough with a life lesson being handed down from father to son after a bad showing at a baseball game. However, the series of events that follow take you inside the journey that hurt and frustrations and flat out anger take from one family member to another until its heartbreaking ending. Molson manages in very precise strokes to show us the devastating lasting effects that not being able to speak the truth - even if it is simply an emotional truth - can have.

What is the story with your name?

It's a nickname my Great Uncle Aaron gave me when I was a toddler. He was basically making fun of me because I had an enormous head and a tiny body. All I can say is: thank god he didn't call me Lollipop. It is a little funny though, that before meeting me, everyone thinks I'm a Korean girl.

Who or what inspired you to want to make films?

When I was kid I studied creative writing, painting and illustration because I wanted to be a graphic novelist. As a high school insomniac I kept stumbling across these weird films with subtitles on some late night art-house cable show. Eventually my penchant for channel surfing gave way to my natural curiosity and I ended up watching the entirety of Ingmar Bergman's Smiles of a Summer Night. The host of the show described Bergman as an artistic genius and right there I had an epiphany: film could be art. I began to watch the show religiously, seeing such films as Bergman's Wild Strawberries, Kobayashi's Kwaidan, and Woody Allen's Stardust Memories. One summer, while I was living in Detroit, my Uncle John took me to see Do the Right Thing and it all came together for me. The strength of Spike Lee's cinematic voice showed me that film combined all the arts that I loved: storytelling, painting and music. Most importantly, I came to the realization that people made films. Not gods, not magicians, but people. Black people.

Is film school worth it?

No. I’m starting to realize that due to the sheer monetary expense of it, it may be the biggest mistake I have ever made in my entire life! At least with law or business school you are kind of guaranteed a return on your investment.

Did you love Old Yeller or hate it?

Loved it. I saw it a bazillion years ago on TV, but I remember being moved by the ending.

Do you have a lucky item, a shirt, baseball cap, charm that you always bring with you to the set?

My shirts and baseball caps from film labs, rental houses and various other movie-related companies have all gained mystical powers over the years. During a shoot, I eventually wear all of my "film clothes" for good luck.

Location film permits or just steal the shot?

I do what I have to do. Period. It's really easy to get permits to shoot in New York, but some towns outside The City (in New Jersey, for instance) want a bunch of money to simply shoot on the sidewalk. That's when I get gangsta.


Images from Opening Night

Sydney Pollack at AFI DALLAS (Hudson Photographic)

Last night local photographers snapped the magic of Opening Night for the AFI DALLAS International Film Festival.

Actor's Corner: Lou Diamond Phillips

Film noir is a beloved genre by anyone who has picked up a camera or instructed someone else where to point theirs. It is also the one of the easiest genres to become "lost" within (in a good way) as plot strands and veiled intentions lead often hapless lead characters to either their ruin or their salvation.

In Stephen Purvis' El Cortez (screening Friday March 23, 7:30pm, and Saturday March 24, 1:45pm), Lou Diamond Phillips strikes a chord that is at once measured and dynamic as his autistic man with a past finds his way to both of those destinations.

Q: Your role in EL CORTEZ is a real tightrope walk between near comic retentive and browbeaten behavior to simmering rage and explosively violent outbursts. What specific challenges did that pose for you?

A: In the script there was no mention of Manny being on the autistic spectrum. But I've done a lot of work with autism here in LA with the Center for Autism and Related Disorders. When I read the script I said, "Wow, it would be wonderful to play this character as somebody with autism." But I didn't want it to be RAIN MAN, which is what everybody thinks of when they think autism. There are a number of people with autism that hold down jobs and lead regular lives. You wouldn't even know they have autism. But they have issues like OCD, or they're restricted to rigid routines, or they have social issues like they can't look people in the eye. So I was seeing a lot of that in the character. I ran it by Dr. Doreen Granpeesheh, founder of the center, and she set me up with a man about my age. I was able to incorporate his mannerisms and such, but the thing I found really interesting was that he was really warm. People have this idea that autistic people are cold and distant. There's a comic element to him, but it's something that I didn't want to play for laughs.

Q: How much of that character was in the script and how much was layered on through the combined efforts of you and director Stephen Purvis?

A: When Stephen first gave me the part, he said to run with it. I spoke to him about playing Manny as somebody with autism and he was really excited. The autism explains not only why they put him in jail, but it also explains the issues he has. In fact, the wardrobe was Stephen's idea. The bow tie and all is a little Forest Gumpy, but
it gives the character and film a kind of classic/timeless feel. Although it's a contemporary film, there's an element that makes you question when it's happening. And there's kind a retro feel to the character.

Q: There seemed to be a bizarre joy to this character. Have you enjoyed playing any character more than this one?

A: This is one of my favorite characters. I'm happy that I can create a very fleshed-out figure that's a person who's totally different from me. I mean one of the reasons people get into acting is to take on roles that are different from themselves. Manny is right up there with Richie in La Bamba or Angel in Stand and Deliver. It let me use all the lessons I learned from my training at the University of Texas at Arlington and with Nita Cox. And I'm not just another cop, or bad guy, or a character that's in my "wheelhouse," as my manager likes to say. I tried not to be aware of how the character appeared. I usually always watch the monitor or the dailies. But on this one I avoided it like the plague. I wanted to do it 100 percent and trust Stephen's judgment. That way I wouldn't be able to think that the character was too goofy.

Q: What is your favorite classic film noir?

A: Wow! Casablanca is one of my favorites. I have two classic pieces from the film in my house. One is a frame from the actual film. I've always wanted to do a film noir in the way that Bogey did. But I never thought I'd be doing one as an autistic person! With Bogey, you can always see that he's carrying baggage. It's never really
explained, but you know it's there. It's in his eyes and his being. That's what I took from his character and applied to Manny. His baggage is that he always wants to do the right thing. He can be positive and sunny, but it's a way for him to control things. When Theta shows up it allows him to loosen up and be more himself.

Q: Let's be truthful here – were there a few extra push ups or calorie cutting before the sex scene with Tracy Middendorf?

A: Ha! I always try to stay in shape because action roles come along. I stay within striking distance, as I like to say. But for this role, I stopped working out. We even chose to make the wardrobe a size or two larger. Of course, when you drop the laundry there's no hiding what's underneath. I finally justified his physique by saying, hey, he's been in prison and working out. What else is there to do in prison? Anyway, one of the most difficult things you can do is a love scene, and this character made it a bit different. Everybody just jumped in and went for it. But I won't be coy, I took a few shots of tequila here and there.

Q: You seem to be constantly working, going back and forth from film to television. Is your life similar to being a musician, always on tour?

A: That's a perfect analogy. A lot of people in the theater say you're a gypsy. The thing is that there's not a lot of boundaries anymore. Even Broadway is opening up to American Idol and stuff. You do try to go to the work that's going to get you some attention. As an actor, you gotta feed the bulldog. But you try to make the best choices you can. For instance, I'm going to be doing A Few Good Men at Casa Manana in Fort Worth this summer. I get to go back home and work and see a bunch of good friends.

Q: How many times did you have to mediate debates between Bruce Weitz and James McDaniel over whose cop show (Hill Street Blues or NYPD Blue) was better?

A: The cop shows didn't come up a lot. There was the usual, "Hey man, I loved you on such and such show." With actors, I think we mostly tend to focus on what we’re doing now. Certain things don't go away, like La Bamba and the work they did on those shows, of course. La Bamba is always running on cable, and between us we like to talk about other stuff. But we all realize that if those projects hadn't happened for us, we wouldn't be where we are today.

Lou Diamond Phillips will appear at the El Cortez premiere at 7:30 p.m. today at AFC.

- by John Wildman, staff writer, AFI DALLAS Daily News


Who Are These People? Connie Beebe

"That's Beebe. Boy-echo-echo-boy-echo," says Connie Beebe, assistant to Liener Temerlin, AFI DALLAS Founder and Chairman, for the last 23 years. "Before I went to work for Liener, I was an air-traffic controller. The first woman to be a VFC at DFW airport. And then President Ronald Reagan fired me."

Lucky for Liener, because it was perfect training for Connie, who has to keep up with his projects, travels and meetings.

"He does a lot of travel," she says. "And he just loves the phone. He's just so amazing. He can talk anybody into anything over the phone."

The advertising legend is so much a part of her life, that she even lists him among her hobbies. "I enjoy family, Liener and genealogy - in that order," she says. Her husband, Lance, does computer training, and she has three daughters and seven grandchildren. She's traced her family back to 1500s England and 1600s Ireland.

And she just found out she was part of the McDonald clan in Scotland. No, not the burger kings you might think of.

"I wish!"

- by Marc Lee, Editor, AFI DALLAS Daily News