Archive for the ‘SRF Interviews’ Category

The LOL Team: SRF Interview

Thursday, April 20th, 2006

The biggest joke in LOL, Joe Swanberg’s second feature, may be the one that the filmmaker plays on the audience. Neither romantic (though there’s plenty of frank sexual content), nor a comedy (though there are many funny moments), LOL feels less like the rom-com that its title suggests and more like a digital age mash-up of Jean Renoir’s Rules of the Game and David Cronenberg’s Crash ““ on the one hand, a humanistic, if occasionally bitter, social critique disguised as an ensemble comedy and, on the other hand, a chilly, unsentimental look at the ways that our fascination with technology (in this case, cell phones and the internet) keeps us apart when it’s meant to bring us together.

While Swanberg’s lo-fi digital images and casual sense of plotting may not achieve the cinematic heights of either of the aforementioned masterworks, LOL has a charm all its own. Some of that charm, no doubt, is a product of its production history: The whole thing was made by Swanberg and his friends in Chicago without a script for a mere $3000. What’s even more impressive, though, is how the movie starts as a comedy of awkwardness and gradually molts into a bleak satire with a mature, dramatic punch. For this, credit goes to the non-professional performers and Swanberg’s sharp editing of his improvised source material.

After premiering in March at South by Southwest (where it was very warmly received), LOL had its East Coast premiere at the Philadelphia Film Festival. The night after its first screening in Philly, I had dinner with Swanberg and two of his collaborators, Chris Wells and Kevin Bewersdorf. All three, as actors behind the improv, are credited as “co-writers.” (Bewersdorf also composed the soundtrack.) Among other things, we talked about improvisation, choosing one’s collaborators, and making a feature on the cheap.

Here’s some of that conversation:


Jake Mahaffy: SRF Interview

Friday, April 14th, 2006

“This is the world after the end of the world,” a boy tells us at the beginning of Jake Mahaffy‘s debut feature, War. Then, for the next 80 some odd minutes Mahaffy captures, in black and white, the tedious and transcendental moments of a handful of characters, all male, inhabiting a devastated landscape. They work, play, drive, destroy, search for things lost. In a way, it seems, they wait for the world — seemingly dead already — to just end already. Is this is what purgatory, or limbo, looks like?

Movies this stark, elemental, sui generis are rarely made by conventional means, and in this way War is no different. Mahaffy took five years to produce the thing, shooting it with a Bolex and a handful of non-professional actors in Warren County, Pennsylvania.

Happily, Mahaffy’s spare, spiritual vision found an audience on the festival circuit, playing at Sundance, Rotterdam, Ann Arbor, and several other fine festivals. Response was warm, even glowing. Its premiere at Sundance even led to a positive review in, of all places, that bastion of Hollywood biz reporting, Variety.

As Mahaffy has worked on new projects, other laurels have followed: Jake was recognized as one of the “25 New Faces of Independent Film” by Filmmaker Magazine, and he has been awarded grants from Creative Capital and the Guggenheim Foundation. Just this week, in fact, he was selected as the inaugural Lynn Auerbach Screenwriting Fellow by the Sundance Institute.

Last month, visiting Roanoke, where Jake currently lives and works, I approached him about doing an interview. Here is our conversation:


Caveh Zahedi: SRF Interview

Wednesday, April 12th, 2006

To label Caveh Zahedi’s I Am A Sex Addict, being released in New York City today by IFC Films, a documentary, a docudrama, an essay-film, or a fictional narrative inspired by true events misses the point. Whatever you call it, I Am A Sex Addict is a great film, easily one of the best American films released so far this year.

The film isn’t for everyone; that’s obvious. Its title alone will warn resolutely unadventurous moviegoers to keep their distance, and for good reason. I Am A Sex Addict critically, and often graphically, charts the filmmaker’s addiction to prostitutes through a series of re-enacted scenes from Zahedi’s past. Yet in spite of having such lurid subject matter, Zahedi’s movie is often funny, deeply moving, stylistically adventurous and, ultimately, a life-affirming film. I Am A Sex Addict is, in the end, a story of redemption through love, but one far more convincing than the dime-a-dozen romantic comedies that Hollywood churns out these days.

I am an acquaintance of Caveh’s (he was an organizer of Underground Zero, a 9/11-themed anthology in which I participated), and I’ve admired his work for some time, so in December I asked if Caveh would be interested in doing an interview for this website. My intention was to help draw attention to his film because, at the time, he was self-distributing it to theaters. Caveh agreed to the interview and, during our exchange of our emails in January, I Am A Sex Addict was picked up by IFC Films — an exciting development. The IFC pick-up also made some question the sincerity of Caveh’s recently-published self-distribution manifesto. (I skipped asking about that in the interview because I assumed, correctly it turns out, that the issue would be dead by the time the movie came out.) ADDENDUM: After this introduction was written, yet another controversy arose — Mark Cuban’s refusal to screen the film in Landmark Theaters. On the same day that this interview was published AJ Schnack posted a recap, and a thoughtful consideration, of the events.

In the interests of drawing attention to the film when it was most useful, I delayed publication of our brief exchange until now. I Am A Sex Addict hits theaters in NYC today, and will continue to roll out to cinemas across America over the Spring. Go see it.

On to the interview: