Archive for the ‘SXSW’ Category

DENTLER TAKES THE STAIRS: Kevin Bewersdorf Interview

Friday, August 17th, 2007

In anticipation of the release of Joe Swanberg’s Hannah Takes the Stairs, South by Southwest Producer Matt Dentler interviewed the film’s major contributors then asked several film bloggers (myself included) if they would be interested in posting one of the interviews online. I warmly reviewed Hannah back in March, immediately after its premiere at SXSW, so I happily agreed.

I find it impressive to see a festival director support the work he programs well beyond the festival itself. Dentler’s vision has made SXSW one of the finest film festivals in America and his support of truly independent fare has helped make it so.

Enjoy the interview. And see the movie. Hannah opens in NYC on August 22. (Showtimes are here.) Rollout for the rest of the country is here.

***

On the eve of the theatrical debut of Joe Swanberg’s SXSW 2007 hit, “Hannah Takes the Stairs,” I wanted to check in with each of the film’s principal collaborators. The film has been documented as a successful collaboration between acclaimed film artists from around the nation, each one offering their own trademark influence on the final film. “Hannah Takes the Stairs” will open at the IFC Center in New York, on August 22, as well as be available on IFC VOD the same day. As part of an ongoing series you can find throughout the film blogosphere, here is an interview with “Hannah” composer and frequent Swanberg collaborator Kevin Bewersdorf:

Dentler: How did you first get connected to “Hannah Takes the Stairs?”

Bewersdorf: Joe and I had just been touring the festival circuit with our film “LOL” (set to come out on DVD August 28). During the festivals Joe kept talking about wanting to shoot a new movie in the summer, and I guess we both just sort of assumed I would be working on it. A month later I was somehow sleeping on the floor of an apartment in Chicago and hanging out with a bunch of great people. Like all the projects I’ve made with Joe, “Hannah” just sort of fell in to place.

Dentler: What do you remember most about the shoot in Chicago?

Bewersdorf: The whole thing was a gift from God. Every moment was happy. I do want to bring up one particular incident however: the moment that the Bujalski vs. Rohal feud began. This mock-feud has been mock-annoying everyone for a while now, and it is time for me to mock-bring-it-out-into-the-open. One day, when we were sitting around at the office location, Bujalski told Rohal that he looked like an actor that he couldn’t place of the name of. Everyone tried to guess the name of the actor as Andrew listed his filmography. Finally, Kent correctly guessed that the actor was Vincent Schiavelli (“One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest,” “Amadeus”). Rohal was extremely insulted. We consulted a picture of Schiavelli on imdb, and he looked like an gaunt and droopy troll, may he rest in peace. To counter the attack, Todd claimed that Andrew had a particularity to his countenance which made him appear as though he had Down’s Syndrome. Andrew was outrageously insulted. For the rest of the shoot the two maintained a mock rivalry over the incident. The rivalry has continued in public statements made by Rohal on various blogs (such as the “Bujalski Sex Tape” jab on Matt Dentler’s blog) although to this day Bujalski denies that the feud exists. I want to bring this out in the open so these two can finally make up, and put the feud behind them.

Dentler: How did the production process differ from your own other projects, or projects you’ve acted in before or since?

Bewersdorf: I’ve primarily worked with Joe in the past, so for me it was totally natural. None of the projects I’ve worked on since have been as stress-free as “Hannah.” There was no producer present in Chicago, so that removed any notion of authority or hierarchy in the production. There was extremely minimal equipment, basically no lights or gear, no schedule, no script, and no typical movie pageantry (Joe rarely says “action,” for example). It was just like hanging out, we were a perfectly balanced family unit from the start. Working on an indy film is almost always hell. Everyone is concerned with their own agenda, or worried about making their own reel look good, or restricted by an impossible schedule, or moaning about money problems. But, if everyone is willing to just let the movie happen, to enjoy the accidents and rock with the waves (while making sure to keep anyone with bad vibes away from the production) it can be so much fun. Usually people are a too concerned with their own success to have a good time.

Dentler: What are your thoughts on the issues of sex and relationships that come to the forefront of the film?

Bewersdorf: Many girls I’ve spoken with have despised the Hannah character. Usually it’s either because they resent that they are so much like her, frequently leaving trails of destroyed guys in their wakes, or because they have been pissed off by girls like Hannah in the past. Girls like Hannah are so awful and unhealthy to be around, and I’ve encountered them often. But I’ve never been able to hold their sporadic heartbreaking actions against them — they are young and confused and don’t know what they want, which everyone knows the feeling of.

Dentler: Ever been in a love triangle?

Bewersdorf: Yes. I was unknowingly involved a love triangle for months. The last side of the triangle wasn’t apparent until much later though, when someone else revealed their feelings. At that point it sort of dissolved in to a “love obtuse angle.” “Hannah” doesn’t technically involve a full love triangle though, unless the character Matt is secretly in love with the character Paul (Ed. Note: they’re co-workers and best friends, so it counts).

Dentler: Did you ever work with “the stairs?” Any thoughts on why they didn’t make the cut?

Bewersdorf: There was one scene with the stairs, a nude scene, but Kent was worried that his balls looked too fat so Joe cut that out.

Zellner vs. Duplass

Thursday, April 12th, 2007

You probably had to be there, but for many of those of us that were, the “Zellner Brothers Vs. Duplass Brothers” short film screening was one of the highlights of SXSW 07. Here’s the video:

SXSW: The Whole Shootin’ Match, indeed

Friday, March 16th, 2007

After a hellish 13 hour trip from Austin to Knoxville (don’t get me started about the airline industry) I’m in Knoxville scouting locations for a film. Before I get completely absorbed with that work, here are some final notes on my last day or so at SXSW.

Tuesday was my panel, Blogging about Film. Alison did a nice job moderating the conversation, and I really enjoyed sharing the microphone with Joel, Agnes, Mark, and Lance. All had very smart things to say, and we had different perspectives on the issues raised by Alison and the audience.

Many of the people in the audience — a crowd of about 75 — were bloggers themselves. At least some of them (Anthony Kaufman, Mike Tully, and AJ Schnack, to name just a few) could have just as easily been on the panel.

One of the more interesting discussions that arose concerned the question of whether bloggers are journalists or not. We also addressed some of the ethical issues that can arise when blogging about film, like whether you should review films by your friends.

After the panel, a few of the people mentioned above went to the Iron Works BBQ to continue talking film. I then caught 638 Ways to Kill Castro. I wasn’t planning on seeing it, but it was a good way to stay out of the torrential rain. Castro is a fairly typical leftist documentary (e.g., interviews and archival footage, romantic longing for the revolutionary spirit of the 60s, damning evidence of US government’s covert activities, etc.). It’s all very upsetting, but the film offers little in the way of suggestions about what the audience should do with its anger. Even more troubling is the fact that the film also asks very few questions about Casto’s own record on human rights. Of course, the question of whether such abuses make one worthy of assassination are never asked, in part, because the parties that want Castro dead don’t care about his human rights abuses — they simply want to exploit Cuba for their own ends. Still, in a film that takes as its subject the covert use of power and violence, it seems odd to neglect discussing Castro’s own abuses in this regard. Despite these misgivings, I was, in the moment, oddly entertained by the film — a combination of wry commentary and ironic archival footage give it a sense of humor (as well as a sense of the absurd), which is lacking in so many other earnest, liberal documentaries. My questions linger, though.

After the movie, I hung out with James Johnston and Amy McNutt. We talked politics, movies, and sugar substitutes over at a restaurant with some fine vegan deserts. Yum.

Finally, I made it over to Eagle Pennell’s The Whole Shootin’ Match. With all due respect to Frownland, Hannah Takes the Stairs, Quiet City, and the Zellner / Duplass shorts program, this was my favorite film of the festival. Shot in the late ’70s, the film has been credited with inspiring Robert Redford to start the Sundance Institute. The film follows two blue collar Texas guys that can’t seem to get their act together. One’s single and an inventor, of sorts; the other is a married man who has trouble staying faithful to his spunky wife. It’s more than just a very real, funny, sweet, and unsentimental masterpiece — it ranks alongside Charles Burnett’s Killer of Sheep as one of the most vivid pieces of celluloid Americana I’ve ever seen.

The Whole Shootin’ Match was a perfect last film to see, a reminder that the strong currents of do-it-yourself American independent filmmaking that were on display at SXSW flow from tributaries that go way back and have, for many of us, long since been lost or forgotten.

After I walked out of the theater, I ran back to the hotel in the rain, changed into dry clothes, and headed over to the closing night party, thanks to a ride from David Lowery.

I stayed for a while at the party, long enough to offer one more set of congratulations and compliments to the makers of all the films that I had liked, and long enough to talk face to face one more time with friends, many of whom I had met face to face for the first time in Austin.

The last conversation I had was with a very talented new friend in which we discussed collaborating on a project together. Nothing, and I mean nothing, can touch the promise and anticipation of making new work with people you respect. There are things that can’t be put into a swag bag, listed in a festival catalog, or even projected on a screen — and yet these intangibles of festival-going are why we attend in the first place.

As much as I was enjoying the party, it was time to call it a night. As if on cue, the rain had let up. So I walked back to my hotel in the dark with my mind buzzing, not with alcohol, but with something far better — ideas for a new film.

An Articulate Movement (of Inarticulateness) Articulated?

Thursday, March 15th, 2007

Following up on Anthony Kaufman’s post of a couple days ago, Eugene Hernandez writes about what’s in the air in Austin this year — you can call them DIY, no-budget, or self-reliant filmmakers. This year, with Hannah Takes the Stairs, Quiet City, Frownland, Orphans these films are the toast of the town.

I’ve been traveling for the last 24 hours (in Knoxville to scout locations for a film I’m shooting), but I have more thoughts on this which I’ll try to articulate later.

Then again, I feel like I’ve been articulating thoughts about this stuff for the last year and a half. It’s nice to see indieWire discussing it, even if they do refer to these films as “mumblecore.” I believe it goes broader and deeper than that limiting name.

Anyway, here’s the article.

SXSW: Anthony Kaufman Gets It.

Tuesday, March 13th, 2007

The article: “The SXSW All-Stars: A New Ultra-Indie Movement” Read it here.