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June 11, 2008

FILM Issue: On Location - Breakouts

Sonja DeVries

Producer/Director

“Passion project” would be an accurate description of Sonja DeVries’ latest film-in-process, tentatively called “Rubbertown.”

Although the script isn’t finished, DeVries, director of the documentaries “Refuseniks” and “Gay Cuba,” said that “Rubbertown,” a feature film, spotlights one of Louisville’s most environmentally controversial neighborhoods through the prism of a Gulf War vet returning home.

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“It’s always been really important to me to make connections with what goes on at home and what goes on in foreign policy,” said DeVries, who adapted the script from the play “In the Heart of America.” “It’s not the children who are living in the East End who are going to fight the war in Iraq, it’s the people whose children live in Rubbertown.”

The mere prospect has already raised the hackles of Rubbertown companies. A couple years ago, DeVries and her colleagues went to take photographs of some of the companies there and were shooed off the property by security guards. “It felt a little bit like a war zone,” she said.

In shaping the film as a feature, DeVries said she hopes it will be seen by a broader audience than documentary lovers and the socially aware. 

“It has to do with the reach, and also just wanting to be challenged as a filmmaker,” she said. “A documentary film is incredibly important, but a lot of people won’t go see a documentary film.” 

DeVries moved back here from San Francisco six years ago and wants the film shot here entirely. “Too often artists feel isolated where they are, and so a community never develops,” she said. “It’s so crucial that we all contribute to the local community, local independent businesses, because if we don’t, they’re not going to exist.” —Mat Herron


Ed Hart, Bruce Lunsford  Hart-Lunsford Pictures

Ed Hart and Bruce Lunsford of Hart-Lunsford Pictures: PHOTO BY FRANKIE STEELE
Ed Hart and Bruce Lunsford of Hart-Lunsford Pictures: PHOTO BY FRANKIE STEELE

There’s more growing from the corner of Eastern Parkway and Bardstown Road than the line at Qdoba.

Lunsford, the Democratic candidate for U.S. Senate taking on Mitch McConnell, and Hart, a former owner of Kentucky Kingdom, joined up with New York’s Plum Pictures as minority partners and have earned the right to call themselves contenders.

The company’s focus on script-driven indie films with modest budgets of $1.5-$2 million has paid off: Last year’s “Grace is Gone,” starring John Cusack, about a father and husband whose military wife is killed in Iraq, was sold to Harvey Weinstein.

One of H-L’s Sundance entries, “Diminished Capacity,” starring Alan Alda and Matthew Broderick, sold to IFC Entertainment and is scheduled to premiere in New York, Los Angeles and Chicago over the July 4th weekend.

“Bart Got A Room,” starring William H. Macy, and “Trucker,” starring Michelle Monaghan (“Kiss Kiss Bang Bang”) and Benjamin Bratt (“Law & Order”), premiered in April at Robert De Niro’s Tribeca Film Festival in New York.

Hart said a constant goal for the company is to put out quality flicks with A-list talent working for indie wages. Although H-L must approve each script, he and Lunsford credit the three founders of Plum Pictures for doing the heavy lifting. “They’re tremendous with relationships,” Hart said. —Mat Herron


Stephon Barbour — aka John Doe  Filmmaker

Stephon Barbour — aka John Doe, Filmmaker: PHOTO BY FRANKIE STEELE
Stephon Barbour — aka John Doe, Filmmaker: PHOTO BY FRANKIE STEELE

We’ve heard about the far-reaching effects of globalization, but “Doebalization” is a whole other animal.

The documentary chronicles the worldwide effects of hip-hop culture and music. Barbour, aka John Doe, has battled angry soldiers and has been traversing hemispheres since 2000 to finish it.

Amsterdam, Palestine, Japan and Cuba are just a few of the places where Barbour has shot, and he’s got trips planned for Jamaica and London later this year. 

In 2004, on his way back from Palestine, Barbour said that airport security in Israel detained him, at one point putting a machine gun to his head. 

They grilled him for hours about who and what he filmed, then confiscated his tape. “They kept asking me the same questions, took my camera apart,” he said.

To calm his nerves, Barbour turned on his Walkman and started rapping along to a track off Capone-n-Noreaga’s album The Reunion. “The soldiers were laughing, like, ‘Man, this guy’s crazy.’” They still kept his tape.

The biggest treat so far was Amsterdam. “American rappers have basically forgotten the DJ, the breakdancers — they think that hip-hop is just rappers and rap, when it’s not really hip-hop. The Dutch embrace all those forms. They had more respect for hip-hop as an actual culture,” Barbour said.

Ditto for Cuba, though Barbour wouldn’t say exactly how he got there. “A whole section of Havana is a graffiti neighborhood,” and Cuban emcees have grown up dubbing American rappers like 2Pac and Jay-Z off the radio, he said. 

“Doebalization” is set for a winter 2008 screening at the University of Louisville’s Floyd Theatre. In the meantime, Barbour’s other documentary, “Hip Hop: Dead or Alive?,” is available at Better Days West and ear X-tacy. —Mat Herron


Sheila Berman

48-Hour Film Festival

Laws in entertainment? As far as Sheila Berman is concerned, there are.

Berman left her job as a lawyer in D.C. for Louisville, where she serves as chief of the 48-Hour Film Festival.

The thrust of the festival is simple, and yet, it isn’t: Write, shoot, edit and complete a film in 48 hours. The films are then shown, judged, and the winner goes on to compete against other films shot worldwide for ultimate supreme domination. Or rather, “Best 48-Hour Film of 2008.”

This year’s competition runs from July 18-20, with screenings July 23-24. 

“We might get bigger next year,” said Berman, a general practice attorney whose background is in theater production. “I’ve got to keep it to the level of chaos and excitement that it was at last year.”

Chaos isn’t the only thing this event fosters. “It’s given a wide array of filmmakers the chance to go out there and put together a film and see it on the big screen,” she said. “It also has pushed some people because there is a strict deadline. Maybe it’s the best ever for a procrastinator, so it forces people to do it.”

Information on how to enter is at www.48hourfilm.com/louisville. —Mat Herron


T.M. Faversham

Director

T.M. Faversham, Director: Submitted photo
T.M. Faversham, Director: Submitted photo

When T.M. Faversham graduated from Muskingham College, a small liberal arts school in Ohio, he left for Telluride, Colo., thinking he would stay for a ski season.

That was 15 years ago. 

Faversham, whose short films have been shown all over the world, came by filmmaking out of a natural love for storytelling.

“I always liked to write, and I guess I was into telling stories and trying to find a way to tell them,” said Faversham, who has since returned to Louisville. “I realized I wasn’t a really good novel writer, and personally, I thought I was better at screenplays.” 

Other people think so, too. His five-minute short, “Solilochairliftquist,” won the 2006 Kendall Mountain Film Festival. His newest film, tentatively called “Choking on Butter,” is in the final stages of post-production, and examines a relationship based on false pretenses. “There’s a big never-say-never scene in it. I never thought I’d make a movie. And you never say never, right?” he said, unsure of his split-second description. “My girlfriend’s always on me about the pitch.”

The hardest part of making “Choking” was funding it. “Money is awkward. I like to pride myself on never asking for money, so it was definitely hard putting your hand out …” he said. “My biggest joke now is if you budget your film, just double it, because that’s really what you’re going to need.” —Mat Herron


Stu Pollard

Producer/Director

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The director of “Nice Guys Sleep Alone” and “Keep Your Distance” keeps a list called “100 Things To Do Better On The Next One.”

“It’s always longer than 100 things,” said Pollard, who splits his time between Los Angeles and Louisville.

The Louisville-born producer-director keeps a gazillion irons in the fire at all times. He’s served as associate producer on the Magnolia Pictures film “Ira & Abby,” starring Jennifer Westfeldt, Fred Willard and Frances Conroy, which is now out on DVD.

Pollard co-produced “Dirty Country,” a documentary about dirty music that features Blowfly, John “Dr. Dirty” Vably and Larry Pierce, a retired Indiana factory worker who, Pollard writes, “happens to be the raunchiest country singer in America.”

In post-production is “True Adolescents,” which Pollard is co-producing. It follows a disenchanted Seattle rocker in his 30s who embarks on a camping trip with his nephew. Directed by Craig Johnson, the film stars Mark Duplass, Melissa Leo, Brett Loehr and Carr Thompson. Pollard’s also jazzed about his adaptation of the best-selling book “The Buffalo Soldier,” which is in development. —Mat Herron


Coury Deeb Nadus Films

All it takes is one speech.

Coury Deeb of Nadus Films: Submitted photo
Coury Deeb of Nadus Films: Submitted photo

For Coury Deeb, it was a speech he heard while living in Philadelphia, and the words came from the mouth of a Sudanese refugee, documenting the atrocities that have shocked and motivated activists and actors of every stripe. 

Five months later, Deeb was on a plane to southern Sudan. Realizing his job wasn’t done, he and director of photography William Wallace have returned several times to fashion “The New Sudan,” a documentary that focuses on the southern third of the country, determined to rebuild and become autonomous by 2011. 

“Everything is pretty grassroots there,” Deeb said. “Your average citizen … many of them struggle with the same needs. The roads there are a joke. Everybody agrees on what the needs are.” 

Like freedom of religion, quality medical care and lives free of violence.

On his first trip in 2005, Deeb filmed with ease, and most citizens in southern Sudan speak English, so there was no language barrier. Now, he said, “It’s impossible. You’ll get arrested if you’re seen with a camera and you don’t have permission.”

In true documentarian fashion, Deeb filmed his confrontations with military personnel, and recorded them on a portable MP3 player.

“We’d have rocks thrown at us at times,” he said. “A mine exploded close to us. A lot of filmmakers can relate to this: When you’re overseas, there’s about a million and one variables.” —Mat Herron


Gill Holland

Film Producer

Gill Holland, Film Producer: PHOTO BY FRANKIE STEELE
Gill Holland, Film Producer: PHOTO BY FRANKIE STEELE



When he’s not overseeing renovations to his new LEED-certified Green Building on East Market Street, running a record label (SonaBLAST!) or flying to New York for a book launch, Holland, a New York transplant, is a film producer for The Group

Entertainment.

The self-described workaholic, who sits on the board of the Louisville Film Society, shepherded two films that were accepted at the Sundance Film Festival this year: “Adventures of Power,” starring Ari Gold (no, not that one) as an aspiring air drummer (“It’s like Napoleon Dynamite meets Rocky,” Holland said); “Power” won Vail, Colorado’s Film Festival, and will screen here in the fall.

The second film, “FLOW: For Love of Water,” continues to make waves. Called “the most dangerous film at Sundance,” “FLOW” does for the world’s water supply what Al Gore’s “Inconvenient Truth” has done for global warming: draw attention. “FLOW” was sold to a foreign distributor and is slated for a DVD release in December. 

Up next: “Candy Darling,” a documentary on the transvestite immortalized in Andy Warhol films, Lou Reed’s “Walk On The Wild Side” and “Candy Says.” The film contains previously unreleased footage of Tennessee Williams, Dennis Hopper and Warhol himself, provided by Candy’s former roommate, Jeremiah Newton. Also on deck: “Were the World Mine,” a high school version of Shakespeare’s “Midsummer Night’s Dream,” “The War Boys,” with fellow Louisvillian Naomi Wallace, and “True Adolescents” (“Like ‘You Can Count On Me,’ but younger, edgier,” Holland said.)

Holland also said he’s close to securing the rights to make a film based on the David Browne book, “Dream Brother: The Lives and Music of Jeff and Tim Buckley.”

Mat Herron


Archie Borders

Screenwriter, director, producer

Archie Borders: Screenwriter, director, producer: Submitted photo
Archie Borders: Screenwriter, director, producer: Submitted photo

There was time when Archie Borders let someone else raise money for his films. That turned out to be a mistake that, on the bright side, offered a kernel of wisdom.

“No one will work as hard for you as you,” said Borders, a producer, writer and sometimes director who helped found BWK Media Group.

Borders has earned the right to share such wisdom, and you can look no further than his resume for evidence: “100 Proof;” “Paper Cut,” a film about a group of people running an alternative newspaper; and “Al Final el Dia” (“At The End of the Day”), a Spanish- and English-language film that’s drawn crowds in places outside Louisville. Like Mexico.

His passion project is “Pleased To Meet Me.” Based on an episode of “This American Life,” the script went through 13 drafts before Louisville screenwriter Jamie Buckner fixed it just the right way. Borders said this film would be his best work yet. 

“The ones that I’ve personally directed or written usually involve a group of people who have to resolve a conflict,” he said. “In this film, there’s a group of people coming to terms with decisions they’ve made with their lives, coming to peace with that.”

Borders is bringing his knowledge and expertise to the classroom now, serving as an artist-in-residence at St. Francis High School in downtown Louisville. His mission isn’t just teaching students how to make films. In a broader sense, he said, it is to excite the future about the future. “I want to be able to put these kids on the set,” he said. “We’ve got to build a larger talent pool, or these kids are gonna go somewhere else. This is a very media-savvy generation.” —Mat Herron


Les Aberson

Apex Theatres

Ask Les Aberson how one acquires a movie theater, and he responds with a peculiar, lacerating quip.

“You wanna buy one? It’s for sale.”

He kids, of course, but that sharp-tongued reply hints at stress he contends with operating two of Apex’s 14 properties: Baxter Avenue Theatres and Village 8.

“I don’t think anybody that’s smart will say, ‘I wanna buy a movie theater,’ unless they have a ton of money and don’t mind throwing a couple million dollars away,” he said. 

His attention to the bottom line is part of a job that depends largely on the folks creating the medium. “Basically, the film companies dictate a lot of what you’re going to do at your theatre,” he said, but that doesn’t translate into sales because of overhead.

Rent, costs of film reels, insurance, concession expenses and property taxes can amount to 90 percent of what theaters take in.

“It’s hard to make money because you have to constantly be promoting the theater,” he said, and these days there’s no shortage of events competing for people’s attention. “We’re in competition with the NCAA tournament. We’re vying for those same people.”

So they diversify, buying select independent films like “Young At Heart,” as well as major motion pictures such as “The Departed” and “King Kong.” Aberson has seen the indie do as well, if not outstrip, the summer blockbuster, but that success is situational and seasonal. A film launched on Derby weekend might be outdone by the fastest two minutes in sports.

“What we do know is our niche,” he said. “We know our audiences at each location, and we know what will do well.”

And what performs well is a quality picture. “We have dealt with all kinds of advertising venues, and product sells,” he said. “To run a promotion saying we have 50 percent off popcorn doesn’t matter. That doesn’t bring them in.”

Aberson is cautious about generalizing what Louisville audiences want to see when they buy a ticket, but he did say they are growing weary of downers.

“Essentially right now, they want to see uplifting films,” he said. “They want to see escape. That could be anything from an independent gay film from France; it could be ‘National Treasure.’ What people don’t wanna see are movies about the war. They don’t wanna see things about reality. That’s why ‘Knocked Up’ has done so well.”

Before you say he’s all Excel spreadsheets, Quickbooks and quick-hitter comedies, Aberson throws this curveball:

“We love controversy,” he said, “especially if we’re the ones buying it.”

A D.C. lawyer threatened to sue Apex if it showed “The Price of Sugar.” The documentary, narrated by Paul Newman, shines a light on Haitians in the Dominican Republic who endure horrid indentured servitude to harvest the sugarcane we use in our coffee, for example.

“Not only did we play the film, The New York Times was going to write an article on censorship,” he said. “We won’t be told how to run our business. Anything that’s controversial, we fight that much harder to show it to the world.”

Aberson doesn’t see the theater experience being eclipsed by the ever-shrinking window of first-run movies heading to DVD.

“It’s still the cheapest ticket in town,” he said. “Everyone has a kitchen, but they still go out to dinner.” —Mat Herron


Jess Weixler

Actress

Jess Weixler, Actress: Submitted photo
Jess Weixler, Actress: Submitted photo

When you’re starting out in the acting business, you go where the work is, even when it’s uncomfortable. Jess Weixler, a Juilliard alum, initially said no to the starring role of the 2007 black comedy “Teeth.” Her part: Dawn, a high school wallflower whose vagina has jaws.

“When I first read the script, I said, ‘I’m not doing this,’” the 1999 Atherton graduate said. Subsequent discussions with director Mitchell Lichtenstein changed her mind. 

“I was attracted to the irony in it. She’s so innocent, so underexposed when the film starts,” said Weixler, who flew back from New York last month to accept Walden Theatre’s Inspirational Alumni Award. 

Her risk paid off. She and her dad flew to Sundance in January. At the screening, she shielded his eyes during certain scenes; he was a good sport and laughed throughout.

En route to a shoot in San Diego, Sundance officials notified the stewardess on Weixler’s flight that they needed to get her back to Utah pronto. She had just won a Special Jury Prize for her role. The organizers rushed her to the stage in star-studded fashion, a chain of events Weixler can’t help but joke about now. “I couldn’t register it,” she said. 

Up next: A part in “Alexander The Last” with Jennifer Jason Leigh, a bridezilla role in “Save the Date” with cult comic writer Jeffrey Brown, and an off-Broadway play called “Face.”

Now that she’s acting full time, Weixler, who counts Johnny Depp, Meryl Streep and fellow Juilliard alum Laura Linney as her heroes, isn’t resting on her laurels. She still meets with an acting coach a couple of times a week. “I feel grateful every time I get cast at all,” she said. “I don’t believe in leaving everything up to magic.” —Mat Herron

I saw a couple of these

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