Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Women Who Kill Wins Jungermann TFF's Best Screenplay Award

Playing at Tribeca Film Festival

Women Who Kill Wins Jungermann TFF's Best Screenplay Award

(from Sag Harbor Express Online 5/13/16)


Morgan (Jungermann) and Simone (Sheila Vand) near the F to the 7th, a reference to Jungerman's web series of that name.
Morgan (Jungermann) and Simone (Sheila Vand) near the F to the 7th, a reference to Jungerman’s web series of that name.
By Danny Peary
Morgan (Jungermann) and Jean (Ann Carr) doing their serial killer podcast
Morgan (Jungermann) and Jean (Ann Carr) doing their serial killer podcast
Women Who Kill fits my category Movies That Should Play in Sag Harbor–although I concede no film like director-writer-actor Ingrid Jungermann’s feature debut has ever played at the Sag Harbor Cinema. Or anywhere else for that matter. This unusual hybrid recalls a couple of creepy, erotic horror classics, Dracula’s Daughter (1936) and the original Cat People (1942), as well as Jungermann’s introspective, razor-sharp, comedy web series The Slope (in which she costarred–as “superficial, homophobic lesbians”–with cocreator Desiree Akhaven) and the WGA-nominated F to 7th, which she is now adapting for Showtime. Both web series were set in the LGBT community in Brooklyn, where Jungermann lives, as is Women Who Kill, which won the Best Narrative Screenplay award at the recent Tribeca Film Festival and is earning the filmmaker much acclaim. The premise from the press notes: “Commitment phobic Morgan (Jungermann) and her ex-girlfriend Jean (Ann Carr) are locally famous true crime podcasters obsessed with female serial killers. There’s a chance they may still have feelings for each other, but co-dependence takes a back seat when Morgan meets the mysterious Simone (Shiela Vand of A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night) during their Food Coop shift. Blinded by infatuation, Morgan quickly signs up for the relationship, ignoring warnings from friends that her new love interest is practically a stranger. When Jean shows Morgan that Simone may not be who she says she is, Morgan accuses Jean of trying to ruin the best thing that’s ever happened to her. But as she and Simone move into commitment territory, Morgan starts to notice red flags–maybe Jean was right and Simone isn’t as perfect as Morgan made her out to be. Morgan and Jean investigate Simone as if she were a subject of their podcast, and they uncover disturbing clues…” I spoke with Ingrid Jungermann about her unique movie–one of my favorites at TFF– before she won its screenwriting prize.
Ingrid Jungermann.
Ingrid Jungermann.
Danny Peary: In this movie and your web series, you definitely have a Brooklyn vibe so it’s surprising to me that you’re actually from Florida.
Ingrid Jungermann: I am. I’m not a Brooklynite, I wasn’t born or raised here. [From Jungermann’s Director’s Statement: “I’m from Palm Bay, Fl. It’s true: Palm trees and bays surrounded us. But also what surrounded us were strip malls, chain restaurants and suburban sprawl. I used to work at a place called Holiday Builders. My only job was to print and fold blueprints… But it beat my first job at Taco Bell; my second at Blockbuster Video…was my dream job not only because they paid more, but because you didn’t have to be embarrassed to work there. It was a respected gig for a 16-year-old. At Taco Bell I as making around $4.25 per hour. Blockbuster cared about its employees, probably started you at around five bucks and you didn’t come home smelling like cinnamon twists and lard…Video stores offered us the opportunity to experience art films, but movie theaters were for the hits. When I was a teenager, I would walk to the theater (never ‘cinema’) down the street to see films by myself. I would leave the theater feeling altered. The persistent voice I heard in my head telling me I could do anything, that I could get out, wasn’t just the makings of a daydream.”] So I grew up in Florida and then I was a journalism major as an undergrad at a small school in Charlotte, North Carolina. I loved it. It taught me a lot about creative writing, just to clean it up at lot.
DP: Is your being from the South and now living in Brooklyn, part of your whole persona, never quite fitting in?
IJ:: Yeah, I think so. I wrote a pilot recently and it’s the same kind of deal. The same character from F to 7th, and also mom character from the web series. There’s a feeling that they’re from Florida as well. It’s a totally different world and lifestyle in Brooklyn, but Florida and North Carolina definitely inform my work as well.
DP: Identity seems to be a big theme in your web series. Your character Ingrid’s search for identity seems reasonable. But now you write in your Director’s Statement, “My neurotic interrogation of identity.” Why is it neurotic?
IJ: I think about it obsessively. I knew what it felt like to be on the inside a little bit because I was an athlete. That was helpful. But I never felt quite right in any group–especially when it was divided between male and female because I felt like I was in between somewhere.
DP: What sports did you play?
IJ: I grew up playing tennis but I played softball, soccer, everything. But tennis since I was four. So that was a big part of my identity as well. Gender was certainly a major part of my trying to figure things out. I didn’t know what that meant until I was making F to 7th. I didn’t know until I started to dive into the work that way. It showed up but it had been in the back of my mind.
DP: It’s done comically but was it painful?
IJ: Absolutely, because it’s based on–my mother and I have a good relationship now. We struggled sometimes about my sexuality. She’s Jehovah’s Witness and just doesn’t believe that my sexuality…
DP: She believes it’s a choice to be gay.
IJ: Yeah, exactly. And that I was talked into it by someone or because of my childhood, something happened there that would push me in that direction. So, for many, many years, I battled myself. What that does is make you internally homophobic. Even though it’s okay right now–it’s in the press, people are opening up about it, it’s a great conversation–I think, it’s going to take a long time for LGBT people to feel okay with themselves because we have been taught for a long time that what we are is wrong. So, the work I make is trying to process through accepting myself for who I am.
DP: It’s sort of pride versus guilt.
IJ: Yeah, there’s a lot of that stuff.
DP: Did you see the movie Go Fish?
IJ: Yes I have..
DP: What’s interesting about your web series and Women Who Kill is that in the world your characters live in almost everybody’s gay. Is this intentional on your part or is it actually the way you see the world?
IJ: It’s intentional because I wanted the characters in the movie to feel like they were in a bubble. They definitely in their world with blinders. I want to make movies for women, with women in them. It’s really important to me, not only because I’m just drawn to their stories but because that’s what I want to do. So if that feels like a bubble, I’m happy. For Women Who Kill, I was going to have everyone be a female including all the extras, to really push that forward but then I kind of opened up to having men. Terrance Nance and Rodrigo, who plays Jackson, are great.
DP: Do you think Women Who Kill is a horror movie? Or is it an extension of the web series?
IJ: I think it’s darker than the web series. I feel like the tone is sinister and kind of wicked. I wouldn’t call it horror but there are definitely elements of horror–and comedy. When you combine those two elements for me, it’s sort of how I feel in the world. You know, I’m torn with being a cynic and an idealist, so I’m constantly struggling between those two things. I see beauty in the world but I also see darkness. It can be exhausting to even walk through life.
DP: Did you want to explore that in this movie?
IJ: Yeah absolutely. The two sides of me. It’s very night and day.
DP: In your Director’s Statement for Women Who Kill you say, “I wanted to make a film that took my appreciation of Hollywood films–the romantic comedy formula, the fairy tale, the promise to entertain–and twist it up into something that resembles more of my own life experience. Spending many years watching people who weren’t like me, didn’t look like me, didn’t want what I wanted–inspired a kind of wickedness.” I read that you wrote this script eight times over and over again. Is this what you were having trouble with or were you just honing it?
IJ: I was just honing it. I’ve written features before but this is the one where I felt like I learned how to write a feature film. I understand that when I’m finished with my first draft that I’m going to start re-writing from page one. That’s what takes so long to write a script. It takes years to figure out what all these subconscious thoughts mean. The subconscious stuff is on the first draft and then you start picking it apart and making sense of yourself and processing all those thoughts and making it a story. So I think now I understand how to write a film. As far as that, I’m drawn to commercial films, too and I want to make films that are fun and entertaining and hopefully mean something to someone. I’m not interested in just telling a personal story and not including the audience. I don’t understand the point to that.
DP: In the press notes you state the genesis for Women Who Kill was your asking yourself, What if my character in my web series dated a murderer? It turns out that we never know if Simone’s really a murderer. You named your character Morgan rather than Ingrid, as it is in both web series, and of course that’s intentional. Did you do it because of the final act that Morgan performs in the movie, which you felt Ingrid wouldn’t do?
IJ: No, it’s just because the character is different. There are definitely parts of me in Morgan too, but it’s the parts that I find the least likable in myself and the parts that I struggle with, specifically in relationships. When you get to the point where you’re in a committed relationship, you start to become another person and I sometimes don’t like that person.
DP: But doesn’t Morgan say that she kind of likes who she’s becoming with Simone. Morgan says, “She makes me feel like I’m the person I want to be. She makes me feel alive and present.”
IJ: Yeah, because Simone represents that new love, when there is what they call “the honeymoon phase,” and you fall for someone hard and fast and it’s all these great things. You’re like, “This is the one. This is what it’s supposed to feel like.” Then three months later you realize she is just like everyone else. Simone represents that kind of person that you are when you’re first in a relationship. It’s just that one side that you even fall in love with. You like yourself when you’re in love. Then the other side of Morgan is the Jean world. The Jean world is more the marriage-commitment-codependency type of thing. In that relationship, Morgan is the person she doesn’t want to be. In the Simone world, which she does want to be in, she feels attractive, she feels wanted, she feels sexy. Morgan is battling those two sides of herself.
DP: Regardless of whether she is a murderer or not, do you think Simone is a positive in Morgan’s life?
IJ: That’s something I play with in the film, going back and forth, so to talk about that is giving away a little bit. With Simone, I was riding a line with: is she good or is she bad? So it’s the struggle between the two.
DP: What happens if Simone never appears in this movie and it’s just still Jean and Morgan?
IJ: I think because Morgan has a tendency to self-sabotage, she would have found a passive-aggressive way to disconnect herself from Jean because that’s what needs to happen in that relationship. Because they’ve become this one person. Their identity is locked up into each other and when that happens, you start to lose yourself. I think Morgan is the type that wouldn’t make a decision that’s hard and painful; she would go around the back way, the easy way, and self-sabotage and break them up again.
DP: Talk about the great shot at night of a very dark and scary underpass in the park that Simone wants Morgan to follow her into. There’s a lot of meaning in that sequence…part sexual because that’s what is on their mind because they haven’t yet slept together.
IJ: Oh, yeah. Everything’s in that tunnel. When I wrote the film, I realized there were those two worlds–Simone and Jean–and that became darkness and light, which we played with in the film. The cinematographer and I really worked that and developed that language and deciding “is this Simone’s film or is this Jean’s film?– playing with light that way. So that when we come to the precipice of major choices being made, it’s complete darkness and the unknown and risk and mystery. We tried to play with that in the film. In Simone’s apartment even, we’re usually in darkness. There’s only one scene where it’s light. And in Jean’s world, there are bright, light walls and natural light and big windows and it’s more open and honest. Simone is the new love and with her is mystery.
DP: How does fate fit into this story? Is there an inevitability to what’s going to happen?
IJ: Yes, but I think it’s controlled by Morgan. I think she makes decisions or doesn’t make decisions to, again, self sabotage. I don’t really believe in fate. I believe in decisions.
DP: But if you have a personality that’s going to make the same choice over and over again – that’s inevitability.
IJ: That’s true, so yeah. I think Morgan’s backed herself into a corner on purpose. I don’t think she realizes it but that’s what she’s done. I think making decisions out of fear can do that to people.
DP: When Simone says to Jean, “I understand why Morgan’s having such a hard time letting go,” is she being seductive? Or is she faithful to Morgan?
IJ: No, she’s not being seductive. She’s trying to poke a little bit of a hole into something. Simone’s character doesn’t know how to socialize really and I think she’s trying to get to something there… maybe make Jean a little uncomfortable. But it’s not a sexual seduction.
DP: Why is Simone attracted to Morgan?
IJ: We talked about that, Sheila and I. It was ultimately humor. She was a fan of the podcast. She was attracted to the humor and the lightness that Morgan seems to be.
DP: So she wants a lot more lightness in her life?
IJ: Yeah, I think she wants to be pulled out of darkness and she sees Morgan as an opportunity to be pulled into another world.
DP: All of the actors in your film you know because you’ve used them before, but not Sheila Vand. Did you have to explain to her anything about your humor, about the past films you’ve made before she’d join the project?
IJ: She was a dream and I got really lucky there. I spoke with her agents. They knew my web series and read the script and knew that this part was what she would want. She read it and wrote me this beautiful email. She just got and responded to Simone and understood her in ways that I couldn’t even understand. When we met for the first time, as soon as she walked in the room I thought, “I found this person.” She just became Simone. I was looking for an Anjelica Huston and the women that I grew up watching but haven’t seen for a long time. She is of that caliber. She’s got an old Hollywood feel and the light loves her and it’s just incredible to see a person that has that energy. I can’t wait to see what she does in the future.
DP: Did you have long conversations with her?
IJ: Yeah, we talked a lot but there’s a point where I think some directors have a tendency to over talk. I would prefer to under talk it. Casting is everything. Sometimes, especially new filmmakers get an insecurity where they feel they have to overcompensate. When you cast someone, let them do their job because that’s where the stuff is going to come from, not your telling them.
DP: In this movie and in The Slope, you and Ann Carr have exactly the right rhythm.
IJ: That’s great. She’s easy to have that with. She’s a sketch comedy, improvisational actress. In this films I see her as Diane Keaton in Manhattan Murder Mystery, although that is a little more slapsticky than I wanted to go.
DP: I am a fan of Annette O’Toole from way back but playing the serial killer they visit in prison is the best I have ever seen her. In this film and playing Ingrid’s mom in F to 7th.
IJ: Wow, that’s great! Those roles are so different. For the web series, I was looking for my mom and Annette was submitted and I remembered her from having seen her movies. So we talked on the phone and connected.
DP: Do you consider yourself an actress?
IJ: I consider myself a director who acts. I would have to say I don’t consider myself an actress because an actress’s whole focus is creating the character but since my focus is split in three directions I don’t consider myself an actor first, but a director first.
DP: What’s interesting with you is that you kind of play the straight person yet your character says funny things.
IJ: Right. In life we never are laughing at the painful things. We take them very seriously and that’s what I’m interested in as Morgan in Women Who Kill and Ingrid in F to 7th. They take everything very seriously and that makes it funny.
DP: I won’t give away the ending of your movie. When writing the script, did you know that ending?
IJ: I wrote about three different endings. I ended up with one that was a little bit more open ended. Even though I myself know what the truth it. Often, I see films–independent films specifically–where there’s not an ending, it’s ambiguous. I’m not a fan of that so I feel like I picked an ending where the answers are in the film. But I also like that viewers will be asking, “What’s going to happen to Morgan? What’s going to happen to Simone? What’s going to happen to Jean?”
DP: Tell me about being at Tribeca Film Festival.
IJ: We wrapped in November and got them a cut as soon as possible. They watched a rough cut and were so excited and saw the potential. They saw that it was a unique film and they were so excited. It was real. It was genuine. They were excited they got the film. They were excited to have me here and I felt that. I appreciated that somebody at that level of where we were in the process understood the film. I love being here. I’m walking around sort of in my own bubble, I guess. It’s just a dream. I love New York. I feel like it’s in my blood. I wouldn’t have wanted to premiere anywhere else.
DP: Do you like being recognized?
IJ: Sometimes. I am a little bit of a loner, so sometimes I’m taken aback to it. But I feel lucky to be where I am.

Anna Karina and Jean-Luc Godard's Band of Outsiders Honored at Film Forum

Playing in Theaters

Anna Karina and Jean-Luc Godard's Band of Outsiders Honored at Film Forum

(from Sag Harbor Express Online 5/9/16)


Claude Brasseur, Anna Karina, and Sami Frey in the famous dance in "Band of Outsiders."
Claude Brasseur, Anna Karina, and Sami Frey in the famous dance in “Band of Outsiders.”
Anna Karina and Danny Peary.
Anna Karina and Danny Peary.
By Danny Peary
I was thrilled to meet the great French actress, Anna Karina, last week at the Payne Whitney House, on Fifth Avenue and 79thStreet in New York City, currently the home of the Cultural Services of the French Embassy. Her appearance was timed to NYC tributes at BAM, MOMI, and the Film Forum, where a glorious restoration of Band of Outsiders kicked off a series (lasting until May 12) of seven must-see films from the sixties in which the French “New Wave” icon starred for her then-husband, Jean-Luc Godard.
Anna Karina and Jean-Luc Godard.
Anna Karina and Jean-Luc Godard.
Circa 1970, I met Godard when he visited the University of Wisconsin in Madison, where I was an undergrad. Five or six of us know-it-all Godard idolaters sat with him around a small table in the Student Union and every one of us was too intimidated by the most audacious, intellectual, and political of the New Wave directors, to say one word. For a full hour. And Karina said to me, “I’m sure he didn’t talk either.” Correct. Fortunately, Karina was delighted to talk about Godard and her movies with him. She even surprised me by saying that there was no improvisation when making her movies with Godard. “Even Band of Outsiders?” I asked incredulously. “So much seems spontaneous.” “No!” she insisted. “We couldn’t change anything because of the cinematographer, Raoul Coutard. Our dance in the café–we rehearsed for two weeks.” Even that famous, seemingly impromptu dance featuring the three young stars? When I got home, I quickly checked the entry I had written on the film back in 1986 in Guide for the Film Fanatic, hoping I hadn’t gotten it wrong. I wrote:
Anna Karina.
Anna Karina.
“Quirky Jean-Luc Godard film is sort of a mix of Breathless (where Jean-Paul Belmondo performs crimes in the nonchalant manner he saw in gangsters in old “B” movies) and Les Enfants Terribles(where the two males and one female commit pretty crimes for fun). Pals Sami Frey and Claude Brassuer play-act crime movies (they also burst into song and imitate movie production numbers), much as little kids imitate heroes from war or western movies. Their mutual girlfriend, Anna Karina, wants to fit in, so she offers a real crime to them: they can steal her aunt’s money. So the three bumbling (they have to go back a second time) amateurs go to aunt’s house to commit the crime. Frey and Brasseur can’t distinguish between fiction and real life. When they put on the movie criminal guises, they think of themselves romantically, as do Sissy Spacek and Martin Sheen in Badlands when they commit equally unromantic crimes; but, as is the case with Spacek and Sheen, their guns shoot real bullets and people get hurt. Like many Godard actors, Frey, Brasseur, and Karina improvise their lines during the heist, but what’s really interesting is that they must play their parts as if their characters are also improvising their lines in order to sound like movie gangsters. The characters themselves switch back and forth between their movie-gangster personae and their real selves–the men (Godard’s obviously thinking of Cagney and Bogart) will impulsively slap around Karina when she protests they are mistreating her aunt, yet without missing a beat Frey will become affectionate and ask if she loves him. The overlapping of reel life and ‘real life’ (as depicted in Godard’s movie) is disorienting because we have a hard time figuring out the logic of the characters’ actions, but it’s also exciting original. The amusing ending is bizarre by other films’ standards, but here it’s perfect. Cinematography by Raoul Coutard intentionally swings from intimacy to detachment. Music by Michel Legrand fits the characters’ romantic notion of themselves–he’s nice enough to give their worst efforts music befitting the professional criminals of the movies. Based onFool’s Gold by American novelist Dolores Hitchens. Also with: Louisa Colpeyn, Danièle Girard, Godard (narrator).” So regarding whether Godard had has actors improvise or not, I did get it wrong thirty years ago–at least according to Karina.
I didn’t write specifically about Anna Karina in my entry on Band of Outsiders. but I praised her work with Godard five years later in Cult Movie Stars: “Lovely Danish brunette, a former model, married to French director Jean-Luc Godard in the sixties and the star of some of his most fascinating, influential, and accessible films. Godard often framed her and photographed her as if she were a model. One can tell by the movements of her body, eyes, head, and hair that she understood how the camera can bring out a subject’s beauty and at the same time veil her mystery. One recalls Karina’s characters being cheery when doing a ‘mating dance’ with an attractive young male in Vivra Sa Vie, my favorite Karina film, and an impromptu song and dance with her two male comrades in Bande à Part. But for the most part her enigmatic women are detached, remote, and sad, unable to make romantic connections, illustrating themes in Godard’s films. They are smart women, but either have no idea how to give and receive true love or are just reluctant to try it. In Vivra Sa Vie and the futuristic Alphaville, she plays prostitutes whose mechanical sexual activity pushes them further and further away from true feelings. Men try to reach their hearts: Jean-Paul Belmondo gives up in Pierrot le Fou, but in Alphaville, tough guy Eddie Constantine (ironically) teaches her sensual female about ‘love.’ In Godard’s scheme of things, Karina’s characters were so anesthetized that it’s hard to judge her talent, but in Bande à Part she managed to improvise while portraying a play-acting woman who is improvising herself–no easy chore. Karina was a sexy, mysterious presence in Alphaville and, as a trenchcoat-wearing woman looking for her lover’s murderer, in the perplexing Made in the U.S.A And she was a captivating presence in Vivra Sa Vie, in which her ill-fated prostitute is shot down in the street, and in Pierrot le Fou, running off with Belmondo and being as untrustworthy to his character as Jean Seberg was in Godard’s Breathless [which had a part Karina rejected because it required nudity]. In fact, this film hints at what would have happened to Belmondo and Seberg if they had stayed together.” Yes, I wrote about Karina’s improvisational skills again, but at least my admiration for her as an all-around movie star comes through clearly. I was glad to be able to tell her in person how significant both she and the movies she made with Godard were in my formative years as a true-blue cinephile. She blew me a kiss as I waved goodbye.

Kirschenbaum Brings "Look at Us Now, Mother!" to Sag Harbor Cinema on Sunday

Playing on the festival circuit

Kirschenbaum Brings "Look at Us Now, Mother!" to Sag Harbor Cinema on Sunday

(from Sag Harbor Express Online 5/6/16)
Gayle Kirschenbaum (right) and her mother, Mildred, in therapy. Steven Gladstone photo.
Gayle Kirschenbaum (right) and her mother, Mildred, in therapy. Steven Gladstone photo.
By Danny Peary
Mother’s Day weekend is upon us and if you plan to spend time with your own mother or just reminisce about her, I recommend that you step into the Sag Harbor Cinema at 3 PM Saturday or Sunday and seeLook at Us Now, Mother! This fascinating documentary will also premiere May 6 at the Cinema Arts Centre in Huntington, the Bow Tie Cinemas in Roslyn, and North Shore Towers Cinema, and have multiple screenings at each venue. Its award-winning filmmaker Gayle Kirschenbaum (A Dog’s Life: A DogamentaryMy Nose) who spent her teenage years in the Five Towns in Nassau County, will appear at each theater, capping it off with a Q&A at the Sag Harbor Cinema after the screening on Mother’s Day Sunday.
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I hope you will join me there. Her bravely revealing, alternately sad and very funny feature about her difficult, lifelong relationship with her supercritical mom is an expansion on her short, My Nose. In that acclaimed film her mother tries, as she did decades before, to convince her daughter to get a needless nose job in order to attract the opposite sex. By making her new film, in which she and 92-year-old Mildred prove to be a dynamic duo, the director hoped to come to terms with her unhappy youth, but in addition, the years she spent shooting and editing it also allowed her the time to heal her long-open wounds, as well as cement the love and friendship of mother and daughter. In anticipation of its release, Gayle Kirschenbaum agreed to talk about her movie. It was excerpted in this week’s Sag Harbor Express. This is the complete interview.
Danny Peary: You had made many films for television but A Dog’s Life: A Dogamentary was your first indie personal film. It was 52-minutes long and featured you and Chelsea, your remarkable and much missed Shih Tzu. Were you already thinking about making more films with yourself in front of the camera?
Gayle Kirschenbaum: It felt right and I was being encouraged by others. One of my assistants called me a “personality.”
DP: When did you decide to make My Nose?
GK: It was more or less a spur of the moment decision that I made because of my mother pushing me to get a nose job. She was relentless and was convinced that everybody agreed with her that I needed a nose job to find a husband and have a successful career. My mother had been saying for years that my nose looks like the Indian’s nose on the Buffalo nickel. I thought that if I got people to tell my mother on camera that there was nothing wrong with my nose, she’d get off my back, so I made My Nose for my mother and not because I had any great desire to actually get a nose job.
A teenage Gayle.
A teenage Gayle.
DP: How did she react when people said you looked alike?
GK: Oh, that was an insult for her. She doesn’t think we look alike. When the doggie film premiered in Florida at the Fort Lauderdale International Film Festival, I ended up on the cover of the magazine insert in the local paper. So her friends were calling her going, “Oh, your daughter looks just like you.” Devastating! I had a podcast series called On the Trail with Gayle, in which I talked to mothers and daughters on the street. One mother said to my mother, “Don’t you realize she has your nose?” That definitely was not a compliment to her. I think my mother is beautiful and has amazing bone structure, and her nose never bothered her. I don’t really see it. My nose has a totally different shape and is similar to my father’s.
DP: When you were making My Nose as a short, were you already thinking of expanding it into feature?
GK: Yes, but it was going to be a completely different film. It wasn’t going to focus only on my mother and me. It was going to be about body image and society’s pressure to change how we look. What I shot originally was a 13-minute promo. But so many people loved it that it started getting recommended to festivals as a short. I thought, “Why not?” Then I decided that if I eventually expanded it into a feature it would go deeper into the mother-daughter relationship and the thrust would be: how to deal with a mother who is critical of her daughter.
DP: What was the thread from My Nose to making Look at Us Now, Mother!?
A young Mildred.
A young Mildred.
GK: It was due to the reaction of My Nose. People stood on line to tell me their own stories and I found myself couching them. Then after one Q&A following a screening of My Nose, a therapist who was there told me, “You have to do a seminar about how you were able to forgive your mother.” After some hesitation, I wrote down what I called “The Seven Healing Tools,” and I started to do seminars, using my life as an example to teach people how they can forgive somebody. Then I was encouraged by a friend to cut a trailer for a feature documentary. I never expected to make this deeply personal film about my life, to put it all,, but I felt, “This is my job, I just have to do this.” People called My Nose brave, but there was nothing brave about it. I will agree that Look At Us Now, Mother! is brave.
DP: When we talked seven years ago about My Nose, you said then that your relationship with your mother had become really good. So has it been really good the whole seven years or could it become truly good only at the end of filming Look at Us Now, Mother!, once she finally apologized and you forgave her?
GK: I need to say that I love my mother a lot and actually have grown to love her more with time. Since my father died in 2006, my mother and I have become amazingly close. She has a great spirit and is quite open minded about many things. How many people can talk to their mother about sex, particularly a mother in her nineties? How many people have moms that age who can take a computer apart and put it back together? So she’s got a few obsessions. Who doesn’t? Like with every relationship, there have been ups and downs. My biggest challenge in life was getting to that point where I could forgive my mother, and I had forgiven her prior to making this movie. I wouldn’t have made it if I hadn’t forgiven her already. However, I still had many questions about her past and throughout the filming of the movie and the therapist visits many got answered. And more importantly with the help of the therapist I was able to understand better why did what she did to me. No one could understand from having watched my funny short about my nose how I was even able to speak to my mother never mind love her. Many disliked her from a fluffy funny short. I thought, “They haven’t seen anything yet!” So I made this movie.
DP: Did you worry that your mother might not want to participate in a film that shows how she damaged you as a child, not with physical abuse but by being so critical?
Mildred and Gayle. Madeline Bey photo.
Mildred and Gayle. Madeline Bey photo.
GK: No. When My Nose premiered in Washington D.C., we were both on the cover of The Washington Post‘s Style section. There was a picture of my profile in front of the Indian’s on the Buffalo nickel, and the first line said, “If you have a mother like Gayle Kirschenbaum’s, you’d better get yourself into psychoanalysis.” She read it and said, “Great, bad press is better than no press. I’m on the cover of The Washington Post!” She loves attention at all costs, so I wasn’t worried about her.
DP: You say in your film that its goal is to help others forgive.
GK: I interviewed people of our generation who have written their stories and memoirs about their critical parents, and I’ve noticed one thing in common. They haven’t forgiven them. Frequently it was their mothers they hadn’t forgiven, and they’d say, “She never said she was sorry.” I’d say, “They’re not even aware they did anything wrong.” I hope that this movie, my personal story, will help people get to a place where they can forgive a mother or someone else. It takes a lot of work but they’ll be much happier when they can. I’m always very, very deeply moved when people who are victims of horrible things can forgive. Somebody said that when you don’t forgive and have anger it’s like taking poison and expecting the other person to die. It hurts only you; it doesn’t hurt anybody else. The ability to forgive is the biggest gift you an can give yourself. If you don’t forgive it effects you, your relationships and your health.
DP: When did you begin this movie?
GK: The summer of 2011 is when I ran a Kickstarter campaign. Then I started to shoot additional footage, including those scenes of my mother and me with therapists. It was a matter of shooting new stuff and combining that with previously shot footage to tell a journey that was never really shot as a journey.
DP: Talk about the old material.
GK: I had a lot of home video footage, most of which was not taken in anticipation of it ever being shown to the public. Also I found the box with my childhood diaries, and I read them. So I had to go back into my childhood and it took me down a dark road. I actually became a wounded, angry, victimized child again. If I knew it was going to be so hard I don’t think I would have done it.
DP: Because it brought up bad memories?
GK: Yeah, reliving them. I’m a highly sensitive person and the feelings were so real. When you’re reliving horrible things, you’re not going to be in a forgiving state of mind, right? It alters your attitude. And I was very much isolated during this time. I didn’t have a partner in making the movie, I produced and directed it and I took over the editing. I didn’t have anybody around. I didn’t have a support system. Chelsea, my beloved dog, had died in 2010, so my comfort and my healer wasn’t there. I put everything into this. I wasn’t doing anything else, so in addition to the emotional stress I had financial stress because I had no outside income. And I had physical stress. I was experiencing all these things I hadn’t had since childhood. Also I got shingles twice and developed an autoimmune disease due to the stress.
DP: Reliving your childhood with your mother brought on the stress, but did you use her for support while making the movie?
GK: She saw the toll it was taking on me and would say, “Finish this goddamn movie, it’s killing you–just finish it or do something else.”
DP: Was it just a matter of not finishing the editing? I know that for your A Dog’s Life, you had hours and hours of footage.
GK: But nothing compared to this film. That was 50 hours of light-hearted footage. This was 250 hours of footage that ate my kishkas out. There was lots of archival footage and photos. The key to moving it along was being organized. This movie came together in the editing room.
DP: How did you decide when to stop shooting? If she said “I’m sorry,” was that what you needed to put away the camera?
GK: Yeah, I wanted her to acknowledge she had done something for which she should apologize.
DP: I won’t say what happens, but were you thinking that if she never apologized, you would still have a movie?
GK: Yeah, absolutely. No matter what she’d say in the film, I knew she still wouldn’t think she did anything wrong!
DP: Does that make you sad? Or was it still good to conclude that she wasn’t trying to be a bad mother?
GK: Right, she did the best she could.
DP: Where are your parents from and where did you grow up?
GK: My parents grew up in Brooklyn. I lived in Queens until I was five and then from ages five to sixteen I grew up on Long Island, in the Five Towns, in an upper-middle-class Jewish neighborhood.
DP: Your mother wanted a boy named Gary.
GK: I grew up my whole life hearing you were supposed to be a boy named Gary. My mother was told that she had a 50% chance of having a boy, and I’m not good at math, but I know what 50% means. Still she was positive she’d have a boy and then she had me, Gayle not Gary.
DP: Did it reinforce your suspicion that you didn’t fit in and were probably adopted?
GK: I have to emphasize that those were very young thoughts. I whispered to my grandmother that I knew I was adopted and she shouldn’t tell anyone and she told everyone because she thought it was so funny. I found out I wasn’t adopted but I did grow up with a Cinderella complex, asking, “Why am I treated like this? Why am I like a slave?”
DP: In the film you say that your mom would say, “I need you” all the time. What did she need you for?
GK: For instance, the phone would be right near her and I’d be upstairs and she’d yell, “Gayle, get me the phone.” I’d have to go downstairs and hand her the phone. It was endless. It was about control. I had so much fear of my mother, I never knew what she was going to ask me to do or do to me. There was constant humiliation. So I was physically sick and would have headaches and dizzy spells and throw up. I couldn’t gain weight because I didn’t have an appetite.
DP: And you felt like a step-daughter while she embraced her two sons?
GK: Yes, they were treated completely differently. They even share that in the film.
DP: In your movie your mother defends her actions toward you by saying that as a little girl you were already defined and on track to be who you are and were very challenging.
GK: She tells the story of being in a dressing room trying on a gold-lamé bathing suit when I took it and said that would look better on me. I don’t remember that at all because I wasn’t even four but wouldn’t you think that’s kind of cute for such a small girl to say? Instead my mother thought it was horrible. It was jealousy. She felt threatened by her little baby girl, and now she’s defending her reaction then by saying, “That was your personality, you were bitchy.” That was my personality? I was just a little girl! Isn’t there something wrong with that?
DP: We see that you were a pretty girl with a fine nose but that you were already being harassed by your mother about having a large nose. Were you an insecure girl or confident kid who was a prime candidate to eventually go into television and film?
GK: When I was about five, before my mother started on my nose, my parents took me to see the movieGigi, with Leslie Caron. From then on I wanted to be a movie star and told my parents they had to call me Gigi or I wouldn’t answer. As you say, my relationship with my mother was difficult from an early age. There was also physical abuse but those scars don’t last. You might say mom and I didn’t see eye to eye on things such as my being forced to wear clothing that made me break out in rashes. I was a late developer my mother wanted me to have silicon breast implants when I was a young teenager. She used to take foam rubber and stuff my bathing suit top with it. I was so self-conscious about my body in high school that I’d figure out how to get into my gym suit without exposing any of my body. I did not like being controlled. As I developed, she became even more critical of my looks and my various physical attributes. I wouldn’t say it was a confidence boost. Boys were attracted to me but I didn’t blossom until I left for college soon after I turned seventeen, and was living 200 miles away. I no longer had to live in fear of what my mom would do to me.
DP: Did you blame yourself when she treated you badly?
GK: Here’s the deal. When I was born, I felt like I came into this world as an old soul. I felt everybody else in my family was a new soul and didn’t have the knowledge I had. The difference between me and a lot of my friends who suffer from the scars of childhood–and don’t get me wrong, I have plenty of scars because I was being criticized and put down in every way–is that I knew in my own mind that there wasn’t anything wrong with me. I knew there was something wrong with my mother and the rest of my family for behaving this way towards me. So when she wanted me to have a nose job for years. I never thought I needed a nose job. When I was being ripped apart, I never felt there was something wrong with me, and that’s a saving grace because a lot of my friends who were criticized grew up feeling they were not good enough. The scars from my childhood are not about losing self-self-esteem but about abandonment and trust. Because I was convinced that my real parents left me at birth and these people took over, I felt abandoned. I told myself that if these two people are truly my parents and they wouldn’t treat me like this, I’m never going to let anybody hurt me like this again –and I put up a big wall. And it’s has always been very hard to let anybody into my life when I am that protected.
DP: Did you want different parents?
GK: It wasn’t just my parents. I disliked many adults because I thought they didn’t understand kids. Back in the fifties, women carried purses that hung in the crook of their arms. I remember going to Mays Department Store in Queens and my head was at the height of the purse. The women were so unconscious that I was there that I’d be hit in the head repeatedly. So I just had this thing about adults.
DP: Would you bring friends to your home?
GK: In the film, I put only one friend on camera, but I use the voices of two other childhood friends. One friend I reconnected with after thirty-seven years said she still remembers that she hated being at my house. One reason is that my mother would force-feed oatmeal to not just to me but my friends who slept over. They remember that.
DP: Having watched your film, I think your mother subconsciously always resented not having independence, and I think having a girl made it hit home how stuck she was. Her sons could do whatever they wanted, but a girl defined her more as a mother and having to stay at home. A girl coming into her life was taking away more of her independence.
GK: I don’t agree. I think that when I was born female competition arrived. Perhaps she thought a female from a later generation had more opportunities than she had in her life and could remain independent by not choosing marriage and children at a young age.
DP: If she were born when you were born, would she be like you?
GK: My brothers were of the same generation as me and weren’t like me, so I can’t say that about my mother. One of the things that I hope comes across in the film is that women from her generation and our generation handle things differently. I think if my mother were of my generation she would have had a pretty serious career, possibly as a high-powered lawyer. She’s one of the smartest and most versatile people I know. And I see her as being incredibly independent–you can see the thread from my grandmother to my mother to me, women who make things happen rather than sitting around and waiting. The difference is that my grandmother had to marry young in her generation, and my mother obviously married young, too.
DP: Would your mom have liked to have been rich? (don’t understand this question- are you implying she is not rich?
GK: Are you kidding? When I would bring a guy home it was always, “What does his father do?” She was always very impressed by wealth and fame. My mother drives a Mercedes. My mother’s a very smart cookie and when she was in her early thirties she was investing in the market. She is extremely clever with money.
DP: It seems like if she has any guilt over anything in your childhood, it was putting you on top of the refrigerator.
GK: She acknowledges it happened but she has no guilt about it. When the movie Mommie Dearestcame out, she picked up the phone and said, “Hello, this is Mommie Dearest.” She embraced being Mommie Dearest. It wasn’t “I was horrible, I was a Mommie Dearest,” but was “They made a movie about me!”
DP: You included scenes of her just playing with you as a kid. How do you react when you see how loving she was with little you?
GK: I know she loved me, she just had a hard time.
DP: Maybe you had a need to forgive her because you always saw something in her, that she actually wanted a relationship. And I’m sure it was frustrating that you couldn’t get close to her.
GK: My mother has a lot of good in her. But when it came to psychology and understanding how people tick, she always was at a real loss.
DP: How were you about accepting flattery from her? For instance, there is a scene in the movie where she proudly shows your art on the walls of her apartment.
GK: I know that she has bragged about my art and found me creative, but I felt like I was working for her. I had to make paintings with certain colors to match different rooms. But I don’t remember flattery about my looks while growing up in a neighborhood where girls had nose jobs, straightened their hair, and shopped for expensive dresses. I was part of the artsy-fartsy group and she was not happy with that. I was being criticized about how I looked and because I was a hippie and my whole lifestyle devastated her.
DP: Were your goals for yourself as a girl different from what your mother wanted for you?
GK: Yes, absolutely. I remember my mother telling me over and over again I was going to be an art teacher because I had an inclination for art. She thought teaching was the perfect career for a woman because you can get married and have babies and then go back to it. I never wanted to be a teacher and when it came time to go to college, I picked one that didn’t have an education department.
DP: After college, you were quite successful producing documentaries in L.A. and back in New York, which I’d think would make your mother proud. Could you have continued doing that and made that your career?
GK: I don’t think so. My voice is so strong and my desire to tell my own stories was aching to come out.
DP: Including this one, which doesn’t always show you in the best light either.
GK: I decided to reveal many personal things in this film and show my flaws too, the ugly me. When you are abused it has a long lasting effect and anger is just beneath the surface. Controlling the anger and reframing it is the challenge and it’s liberating if you do it.
DP: Your father seemed to have a lot of anger.
GK: He was a very bitter, angry guy. He’d bark and scream, and he and my mother were always arguing, but he was a very soft person inside. He had a very dry sense of humor and was very compassionate, but he was so unhappy and that just kind of took over. And he married a wild woman. We’d go to affairs and my mother would get drunk and make a scene, and get lots of attention. Even at 90, she climbed on top of a bar and danced wearing a boa. She was and is a party girl.
DP: She has always been outgoing but you had the camera on him at your parents’ 50th anniversary celebration and he had nothing to say.
GK: That was my father. If I called home he’d pick up the phone and say, “I’ll get your mom.” He would never speak. I was probably the one he spoke to most because I was the only one who would listen to him. It usually had to do with his ailments, that’s what he was very focused on. He was always sick. He had arthritis and had a million problems. My parents moved to Florida and when I would go down there, it was exhausting because he’d be yelling at me nonstop. I was so drained from his badgering that I couldn’t wait to leave, but suddenly he tried to convince me to move down there because he thought he’d end up in a wheelchair and I would be a better caretaker than my mom. After he died, she was very upset, but her response to why she was not interested in dating others was “I don’t want to be a nurse with a purse.” And she said, “It’s the first time in my life I don’t have to answer to anybody.” That’s very telling, right? My father had a frustrating life because he worked in his family’s funeral home and never followed his passions, such as music. It was very clear he hated what he did but he let me know he did it to put food on the table. I thought it was very sad when I asked my mother what he really wanted to do and she didn’t know. How do you not know your husband after sixty-three years? I think my mother’s much smarter than me in many areas, but I am much more intuitive and sensitive about people.
DP: Were you surprised at the passion. romance, and lustfulness of the letters your parents wrote each other when he was in the army?
GK: I couldn’t believe what a great writer she is. I thought it was funny when he wrote asking about her figure.
DP: He wanted to know her exact measurements so he could brag to other soldiers.
GK: They fought like cats and dogs, but I will say that they were very physically attracted to each other. My father once confided in me that while we were vacationing together in Africa, my mother took him to a secluded spot on the beach and they made love. I do like my mother’s line in the movie about how she’d go to sleep every night holding my father’s penis. I’d heard everything so that was nothing new for me. One time her granddaughter asked her, “Do you two still do it,” and she said, “Are you kidding? It’s the only muscle he has that still works.” A lot of people asked my mother what the secret was to their long marriage, and she would say, “We never go to sleep angry.” And I agree that’s a very good lesson.
DP: For a mother and daughter, too.
GK: That is so funny, I never thought about that. But, yes.
DP: The big revelation in the movie is that your mother had a difficult childhood herself, something you didn’t really know, and it undoubtedly impacted on who she was as a mother. The only thing she made an effort to remember before was that her mother didn’t complain.
GK: Over the years I’d asked her about her childhood many, many times but she never opened up to anyone before. In France was the only time I’ve felt her pain about it. That scene is poorly shot and the audio is bad, but I couldn’t lose that one moment of her being emotional. My grandmother would say, you should never hang out your dirty laundry, and my mother was the same. Her cousin Tillie says to her in the movie, “You wouldn’t even mention if someone had cancer.” My grandmother dressed beautifully despite having no money. She had to sew her dresses together, but she looked rich. My mother inherited that ability to look stylish and upscale.
DP: Your mother, like her mother, accepted all the bad in her life without complaint. But you were able to detect that she has some pain because of her childhood, including untimely deaths in the family.
GK: My mother’s not remembering is what I think drove me to do genealogical research. I discovered tragic events happened in my mother’s life and she was old enough to remember but chose not to. It was a bad time in which grandmother didn’t have much time for her. My grandmother had a lot to do, including taking care of her depressed husband, and as a result I think my mother was cheated out of her childhood.
DP: One of the times your mother opens up in the movie is when you’re both with a therapist. In regard to your saying she was a critical mother, she admits, “I didn’t know what I was doing.”
GK: Soon after I finished the movie, I said to her, “Come on, Mom, give me another good ending and say you’re sorry.” And she said, “But I didn’t do anything wrong!” So she hadn’t changed. She’s not focused on reliving the past, her choice is to forget it. And it’s serving her well. She’s 91 and you would never know it.
DP: She does say that she loves you and that she’s happy you two are friends, so that had to move you.
GK: She once said, “If I knew you were hurting so much I would have said to you that I love you more often.” I absolutely love her. I need to emphasize my mother’s one of my favorite people to hang out with today. I speak to her all the time, and sometimes we go at it and have fights and hang up on each other, but then it’s over. She’s for sure my favorite person to travel with because she’s very adventurous and not fearful. My mom likes to take all the back roads, get on local buses, and eat food from the local stands.
DPP: You say in voiceover that she taught you to take on life with a fierce passion.
GK: Did my mother do that? Definitely. I got a lot of amazing qualities from her.
DP: Does she still want you to get married?
GK: She doesn’t care anymore. She just wants me to be happy.
DP: Would she approve of whom you’d choose to marry?
GK: After waiting so long, I could bring home a lesbian with three heads and she wouldn’t care. At this point, she doesn’t care.
DP: Does your mother compliment you more now that she knows she didn’t do it enough before?
GK: She’s been more complimentary about my looks as I’ve gotten older. I was recently down in Florida with her for three weeks because she had surgery, and I was putting on clothing to go to the gym, and she said, “You have a good figure.” She’ll now say things like that and “You don’t look your age.” We just had an interesting moment while I was down there. She got very moved and teary-eyed by how I managed her care. I took charge and was her advocate handling the doctors and her recovery. It was the first time I was able to be there for her and I loved preparing meals for her. She really appreciated my healthy dishes. In fact, I got her into making big salads filled with lots of tasty ingredients. I would not leave her until she was okay on her own and she cried from appreciation. She knows that I will be there for her no matter what the circumstances.
DP: Does your mom hope this film can help people?
GK: Absolutely. She says this film is like therapy.
DP: How did your recent pre-release screening go?
GK: What a night! I could not have shown it to a more enthusiastic audience. I was humbled by the standing ovation. Mom loved the film. Her first comment was, “I never realized I was such a bitch.” When asked what her next film will be she said, “A porn film.” That’s mom!
DP: So what do you hope happens with it in the future?
GK: The film started in festivals last spring and it has played in may all over America and abroad including Canada, UK, Israel and India. I have been humbled by the audience- sold out screenings, standing ovations and several awards. I apparently hit a nerve with this film. After the Q&A, I am usually mobbed by people waiting to give me a hug and then share their story in hopes I will be able to help them. Seems like I must be doing something right. I am the accidental therapist. My motivation and drive now is to build a movement focused on forgiveness and healing between mothers and daughters. And we have initiatives that we will launch one where people will have an opportunity to share their own story. And most likely next up I will be writing a book. Just need to pass the distribution baton to someone else because is quite time consuming. I intentionally did not sign away all my rights because I wanted to be able to have access to my film and launch this movement through the theatrical release.
DP: How can people see it this month and in the future?
GK: We are doing a Mother’s Day release on Long Island. Then probably elsewhere depending on how it does before it is out on TV and/or on Netflix and other digital platforms. The best way to stay in touch and know about when and where the film is released is to sign up for our newsletter at our website at
http://lookatusnowmother.com . The website will have everything up to date and there is much to watch and read there including the trailer. We will be sharing all our information about the release and many other things in our social media. Like us on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/kplookatusnowmother. And follow us on twitter @glkirschenbaum. Mom and I are becoming the mother-daughter poster combo who goes out there and talks about mother-daughter relationships, and about forgiving.

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

TFF: Gleeson, Molony, Dixon, and Evans on the War Thriller Tiger Raid

Playing at Tribeca Film Festival

TFF: Gleeson, Molony, Dixon, and Evans on the War Thriller Tiger Raid


(from Sag Harbor Express Online 5/2/16)

Joe (Brian Gleeson) and Paddy (Damien Molony).
Joe (Brian Gleeson) and Paddy (Damien Molony) in “Tiger Raid.
By Danny Peary
Writer-director Simon Dixon’s ambitious, psychological war film, “Tiger Raid,” which is set in the Iraq desert, recently made its world premiere in the “Midnight Section” at the Tribeca Film Festival in New York City, giving the viewers some powerful jolts and reducing the lengths of their fingernails. TFF programmer Dan Hunt’s synopsis: “While on a covert mission, two cold blooded mercenaries form an unlikely bond as they race across the desert in the dead of night. When their violent and desperate world implodes, past atrocities come to the surface and threaten to tear each of them apart. Brian Gleeson (Snow White and the Huntsman), Damien Molony (Kill Your Friends) and Sofia Boutella (Star Trek Beyond) offer stunning performances as the inhabitants of director Simon Dixon’s dark and arid, seemingly unpopulated desertscape. Dixon surrounds these complex and troubled characters in haunting imagery and immersive sound design. As the true nature of their mission becomes clear, betrayals accumulate; no one emerges innocent in this disturbing action-thriller.”
Gareth Coulam Evans, Simon Dixon, Brian Gleeson, Damien Molony
Gareth Coulam Evans, Simon Dixon, Brian Gleeson, Damien Molony
During the festival I did the following interview with Dixon, producer/coscreenwriter Gareth Coulam Evans, and the two leads, Brian Gleeson (who plays Joe) and Damien Molony (who plays Paddy), making sure no one gave away the ending.
Danny Peary: This film has so many visual elements that I was surprised to learn that it came from a play.
Simon Dixon: We knew Mick Donnellan, who had written a novel and a couple of plays that were really cool. We’d been saying, “We’d like to work with you.” But nothing quite clicked. Then he sent us this document which was about 118 really rambling pages of dialogue. It was an unpublished play about a tiger raid [an abduction to force someone else to commit another crime], but it was called Radio Luxembourg. There was something about the characters and the cadence and language and the savage beauty of the dialogue that we just really connected to.
DP: Is the play set in the desert?
Damien Molony: No, in Ireland. Basically they figured out a way to put these two Irish people in a very unsafe unsettling situation in the deserts of Iraq.
Brian Gleeson: They re-contextualized it. The play was about two guys in the west of Ireland carrying out “a tiger raid.” I don’t think that phrase is used anywhere apart from in Ireland.
DP: Simon, you call Tiger Raid an Irish film. Is it an Irish film?
Shadha (Sofia Boutella) in "Tiger Raid."
Shadha (Sofia Boutella) in “Tiger Raid.”
SD: I think so. It has an Irish heartbeat. The playwright is Irish, it has Irish characters, the Irish Film Board backed it really kindly and was incredibly supportive, it’s an Irish co-production. There’s a lot of things that make it an Irish film. But it’s a combination; it’s both Irish and international. Both Gareth and I have had a conviction that our film should speak to everybody. So I’d like a guy in Mexico or a woman in Sydney to be challenged by it as much as an Irish audience.
Gareth Coulam Evans: It’s a British film and it’s a Jordanian film. Most of the people who worked on it were Jordanian. We felt a lot of love working in a small industry that’s growing, where they take huge pride in their work, so I hope they’ll feel the same kind of ownership with the movie.
DP:, Simon, when you put these two characters from Ireland into the conflict in Iraq, you didn’t make them American but kept them Irish.
SD: That’s a good point. As I said, Gareth and I were very keen to maintain the integrity and the Irish component of the story. Still, we didn’t want to do was double down on the Irish thing. We liked the idea of stretching the concept and moving it to more of an international context. So that’s what we did. We worked and collaborated with Mick to place the story into something much more succinct and diversify the difference between the two characters and make it more muscular.
DP: Paddy and Joe had more in common in the play than they do here?
SD: Potentially. There’s a little bit more overlap. Both men are very brutal and both are very desensitized to the violence and the terrible things they’ve done. By resetting it in Iraq and have them be mercenaries gave a context of where those guys had come from in their training. We liked the idea that there was this constant backwards and forwards of who has the upper hand. As the film develops there is a series of revelations.
DP: Did you discuss before you started shooting which of the two is the hero in the movie and whether there is there a hero at all?
DM: That was one of the things that attracted me to the project. The power balance is changing between the characters all the time and they’re taunting each other and suspicious of each other. In a Hollywood movie, they might be friends but they don’t know each other before they meet in the movie and they don’t particularly like each other. That constantly shifting, volatile terrain that they’re both on was hugely interesting to me, as was seeing the psychological plays each character makes constantly to undermine the other.
BG: We’re so saturated with good-guy-bad-guy narratives, but people aren’t really like that. They aren’t molded in a certain way. Give them a gun or put them in a different context and you’ll see that they’re completely different and will do things you don’t expect. For me, it was less about figuring out whether Joe or Paddy is the good guy or the bad guy–I just wanted to be true to what was written on the page. And do the detective work and go in a find out what the guys are getting at. Sometimes unconsciously, you draw this out from the script and follow your nose and see where it goes. It was just about being true to myself and the character.
DP: Brian, I read an interview you did for Stand By, which was a romantic comedy, and you spoke about the spark that was needed between you and the female lead. What about in this film? What kind of spark and connection was needed between the two actors?
BG: We definitely needed to get on. You don’t necessarily need to be on the same page because you have separate characters but chemistry and being generous with each other’s time makes it easy to work together.
DM: It was so physical and so hot when we filmed during the day that we would go to the gym at night time together and kind of be together all the time. But we both had our own music in or ears and were almost in our separate worlds.
DP: When you went to the gym, did you talk about the film at all? My guess is that you didn’t.
DM: Not really, no. Not over the treadmill.
BG: No. Looking back now, that seems so alien to me–going to gym after work. I’m a couch potato.
DP: It was the lure or air-conditioning. I’d think you two didn’t want to be too chummy at night because your characters are distant from one another. Did you think that there is a rivalry between the two?
BG: There is, yeah. From the beginning, there’s a real rivalry and animosity. I think that’s great. They’re trying to put each other in each other’s place. It’s one-upmanship.
DM: Joe is the old guard. Paddy’s is the new blood. Paddy’s the kind of guy that will walk into a new job and say, “Alright, I’m running the show now.” He has a cocksure arrogance with a huge amount of naivety behind it. What was great about the filming process was that Simon would allow us extremely long takes. We would do the lines and do the scene and then maybe improvise for two or three minutes and then maybe revisit the scene again from that standpoint. So we had a huge amount of freedom to develop the relationship when in a normal movie maybe we wouldn’t necessarily get that opportunity.
DP: In the press notes, Brian said, “The challenge was to unearth their humanity that is buried deep.” You may have wanted their humanity to come out, but to do what they do, don’t they want it to be buried deep?
BG: Humanity to me just means being real as opposed to it being the good aspects of a personality. Just trying to work out the psychology of who you’re playing makes it scarier. When you just paint these guys as monsters, you have too easy an answer.
DM: Obviously when Shadha comes in, she adds a whole new element. She brings the humanity of the characters out.
SD: I think the circumstances has hidden their humanity. The deeds they’ve undertaken and the terrible things they’ve done for money by definition is constantly suppressing an eroding the humanity of both characters. We didn’t want to sensationalize or diminish the violence aspect. We wanted to reach inside them. To find two fully three-dimensional characters, we don’t want to condone their world view but we don’t want to paint caricatures either. It’s the rhythm between two men and how their interplay allows us to look at the dark hearts of men and what men do when they’re subjected to this much violence.
DM: Remember that this is not necessarily a big deal for these guys. This is their day-to-day, nine-to-five job.
DP: You also have to figure out what a mercenary is.
BG&DM: Exactly.
SD: A lot of mercenaries have been painted in this very one dimensional way. Mercenaries do shoot people but there’s more to them. It’s almost as if they were in the wild west. These guys are trained in these heinous and dangerous skills to get to Iraq. It’s to make money. So they’re not really interested in the day to day part, but how they’re going to utilize their skills. In the case of our guys, it’s a tiger raid but their relationship fractures in the middle when they meet Shadha [Sofia Boutella], the female character in the film. She becomes kind of the emotional heartbeat of the film and she opens up the story and changes the Joe and Paddy’s interplay. So it moves from being a thriller and a kidnap film to being a really interesting character study of the guys and it’s less about being a mercenary and more about dealing with the terrible deeds and choices that they’ve made in their lives, particularly Joe.
DP: Filming in Jordan, where did that choice come from? Simon was a first time feature director so I’d think going to Jordan and working in the desert in 115 degree temperatures would be overly ambitious.
GCE: That was the thing we thought least about. The most obvious choice in the world would have been to go to Iraq, but we stopped short of doing that. Going to Jordan was obvious to us, not because it would look right but obviously that afforded us tremendous freedom. We considered shooting in a different country like Morocco but you’d have to fake so much to get that reality, whereas in Jordan we could point the camera anywhere we wanted and it felt like Iraq. Beyond that, there was this tremendous benefit to putting not just the actors but the whole crew on those streets and on that sand that they knew stretched to Baghdad. We might pass a road sign to Baghdad on the way to the set. We would feel the quality of breathing the air and feeling the heat of the Middle East. The world that the characters had walked. Talking to the DP, Si Bell–the crew would be driving back from the set, they’d hear the call to prayer. Your mind changes. I know it inspired everyone to think differently
BG: I think it was the best decision to film in Jordan. It really was. It paid dividends. I just felt so in it.In the movie, in the place, in the environment.
SD: We wanted to be as true as possible to the environment. The film is set in Iraq and of course Jordan borders Iraq. So, any one given day, we were a hundred kilometers from the same sand the men would have stood in.
DP: There had to be a spiritual feel, too.
DM: It’s the cradle of civilization. It’s biblical.
SD: We were in the Valley of Jordan. It’s where Moses stood and looked out at the Promised Land. Regardless of whether you believe those stories, it’s quite an inspiring place. It’s the desert where they shot Lawrence of Arabia. It’s a place that means something. My belief is, the more experiential you can be with something like this and serve the film, the more likely you are to get something valuable. It was about finding the space for the characters to really feel real because we’re dealing with very complex, deep and difficult themes. If we could create an environment where everyone felt they were being challenged on behalf of the film to do something different, I think we’re more likely to make a film like Tiger Raid than just make a good film.
DP: You use the word real. How realistic did you want the film to be? Do you want us to see this as the real Middle East conflict, and that this is history?
SD: It’s not based on any specific incident. Things like the physicality of how to handle a weapon, locations, and other things were left in. There’s a reality to how they would handle a weapon.
DP: Is it 2016?
SD: I think you could take ten years off for argument’s sake. The film is manufactured to create the environment to tell our story and the backdrop just gives a degree of context to give a reason for them to be there. It’s not about Iraq or the Iraq War or even about mercenaries. It’s about the darkness within these men and the things they’ve done and the choices that they’ve made and how it comes back to haunt them and ultimately doom them.
DP: Brian and Damien, do you think you, the actors. knew your characters better than the screenwriters, Simon. Mick and Gareth?
BG: There’s collector’s ownership over everything. There was constant dialogue and finding the story together.
DM: Filmmaking is a collaborative process and we’re giving as much to Garrett and Simon as they are giving to us.
DP: They audience is going to be changing their minds about who’s the hero. Simon, do you feel that as the director you’re manipulating the audience?
SD: Clearly yes. The way I see it is that we start the movie quite broad, and then we develop a context that basically changes. We bate and switch on the audience, deliberately to tease them and toy with them. What I think takes over is your own personal perception of what you’ve been told. So when the audience leaves the cinema, I want them to make their own judgment of what they believe the characters are and their moral standpoints and the various layers that have been revealed. We didn’t want to lead them to the water and say, “This is the answer.” So I think it’s a combination. You need to manipulate to create an exciting environment and an experiential feel for the film, but I think it’s a film that’ll be polarizing and I hope people will debate it. I like the idea that people will talk about it. I think that’s what’s important about cinema.
DM: It will be interesting to see how people respond to it. It’s very exciting. It’s interesting to talk about it and let it settle in our heads as well–because we made this a couple of years ago.
DP: Simon, you’ve said Tiger Raid is not a genre film.
SD: It’s a heightened genre. It has a lot of genre tropes. There’s violence and physicality, but it’s not a sensational film. We didn’t want the thriller aspect to outrun the narrative character and the importance of the story. That was what was important to me.
DP: Talk about being at the Tribeca Film Festival.
SD: It’s a great honor. I used to live in Tribeca many years ago.   There’s kind of a spiritual thing to it and a location thing, the fact that it’s Tribeca in New York. The fact that they honored us with selection is an amazing thing. It’s a festival that champions provocative, challenging, unusual international work. The fact that they’re there and allow people to have a voice I think is an incredible thing. It’s a testament to the team that they allow films like ours to get a voice that maybe they normally wouldn’t get. I feel a great deal of gratitude for that.
This is the link to the trailer for Tiger Raid: http://teaser-trailer.com/movie/tiger-raid/
I hope you will order a copy of my new book for you and for every baseball fan that you know: http://www.amazon.com/Jackie-Robinson-Quotes-Remarkable-Significant/dp/1624142443/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1461715345&sr=1-1&keywords=Jackie+Robinson+in+Quotes
Be sure to see Jean-Luc Godard’s Band of Outsiders at the Film Forum beginning next week.
Also of Note: Friday April 29th is Denys Arcand’s Eye of Beauty opens at the Sag Harbor Cinema.