Friday, May 1, 2009

Fresh flicks from Brooklyn filmmakers

A scene from "Woman's Prison," by Katie-Madonna Lee

By Meredith Deliso

(Published in the 4.30 issue of 24/Seven)

A Civil War period piece. A contemporary look at women’s plight in the Midwest. An experimental, mind-altering musical.

These are just some of the selections that will be shown during the School of Visual Arts annual Dusty Film and Animation Festival and Awards, this May 4 through 10 at the college’s theater in Manhattan, and they were all worked on by up-and-coming filmmakers from Brooklyn.

En route to a degree in film at SVA, these college students’ offerings are among the over 100 films, shorts and animation features that will be shown during the free festival, the result of a year of hard work and dedication that has resulted in the diverse offerings.

There’s Marco Chierichella’s “The Bastard Men of Root Flats,” a modern Western taking a cue from films like “3:10 to Yuma” and “The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford” in its modern feel.

“It’s like any other traditional Western – it’s about revenge, redemption, told through the point of view of the bad guys,” says Chierichella, whose plot kicks off with outlaws celebrating their last night as wanted men, all the while pursued by a gang of bounty hunters. “Although it’s a traditional story, we put a new, contemporary spin on it.”

With Brooklyn not quite the ideal setting for his 1874-based film, the Williamsburg native spent the month of October filming in the Poconos in Pennsylvania. Co-written by Chierichella and his older brother, the two formed a Cohen brothers-esque dynamic on the set.

“He and I have our arguments, but by the end of the day we get what we want,” says Chierichella. “The Cohen brothers are the same way.”

The two live in the house they grew up in in Williamsburg, though both look to head out west after Chierichella graduates to try their luck in the film industry in Los Angeles.

Living in Bay Ridge has helped South Bend, Indiana-native Katie-Madonna Lee stay grounded as she’s worked on her feature film, “Woman’s Prison.”

“Making a movie is very stressful and very chaotic – you need stability, and Bay Ridge is so grounded,” said Lee. “It’s like one of the last neighborhoods. I needed to go to a home and be grounded so I can create human stories, stories about communities.”

Written and directed by Lee, “Woman’s Prison” tells the story of a young woman from Michiana – in northern Indiana and southwestern Michigan in South Bend – whose mom was murdered by her dad when she was eight and spends the rest of her life longing to be with her again. That path takes her to prison for shooting her boyfriend, where she meets other women who had limited opportunities in their own lives.

“Prison was the only thing that made them people or gave them a chance to reflect on their life,” said Lee. “It’s a prison film that hardly takes place in prison, though. It’s an institutional prison for many women in the Midwest – they’re not in prison but their social position is the prison. Their lives are completely built on chaos and poverty.”

Having seen the limited economic and social mobility herself, Lee was empowered to go back and document it.

“Everyone on the set was from the East Coast. They had no idea it was like that,” said Lee. “I felt the only way to collectively tell the truth and make people emotionally responsive is through film. [Women’s Prison] was based in part on my anxiety on what would have happened to me if I hadn’t had the charge to leave and pursue my career.”

Brian Gonzalez didn’t have that much of a personal connection to the films he helped make. As a cinematography major, he was recruited by fellow students to work on four different short films, and took the opportunity to really develop his craft and try out different styles.

“One of my professors at SVA said something really provoking last year, that the best cinematographers are the ones who don’t have just one or two styles, but four or five styles,” said Gonzalez. “That was something that I wanted to implement this year. My goal all thesis year was to do something that I hadn’t done before.”

The musical “A Machine Beloved” had Gonzalez experimenting with light and color, drawing inspiration from light installation artist Olafur Eliasson (the man behind last year’s Waterfalls public art project), creating the mood by going from one harsh color to a neutral one in order to jostle the viewer, deriving the same effect Eliasson’s 2004 work “Your color memory” had on the filmmaker. The dramatic short “April Night and Day” was more raw, shot on a handheld camera, while “Wishing, Well” was a more straight-forward narrative short film and “After Silence” a video art piece.

The San Antonio native and current Park Slope resident might try his luck on his own films one day as a director, but for now is immersing himself in various art and video projects.

“I want to do everything,” said Gonzalez, which includes, in addition to film, also art installations, a documentary on Brooklyn photographer Sarah Small, tee shirt screenings, and video shorts of his own. “No one should get too comfortable with any style. The point as an artist is to keep learning.”

The three are currently gearing up for their film debuts at SVA’s Dusty awards, which looks to be an eclectic mix of promising work from the next generation of local filmmakers.

“I can honestly say this year is by far one of the best years this school has seen in a very long time,” said Heidi Hamelin of Bed-Stuy, a co-producer of the festival who herself is a graduate of the program. She now works as an independent producer, including recently on the Biggie Smalls film “Notorious.” “You can park yourself in a seat and not leave until Friday and enjoy movies of every range and spectrum that our students could possibly imagine.”]

The 20th annual Dusty Film and Animation Festival and Awards runs from May 4 to May 10 at the School of Visual Arts Theater (333 W. 23rd Street in Manhattan). The students’ films will be screened all day May 10. All events are free and open to the public.

For a complete schedule of events and screenings, including of these hometown filmmakers, go to or call 212-592-2124.


Copyright © 2009 All rights reserved

  © Blogger templates The Professional Template by 2008

Back to TOP