Los Angeles Film Festival: Getting a Jump on the Films, Meet the Filmmakers
With the world premiere of Woody Allen's latest under its belt, the Los Angeles Film Festival is now ready to get truly underway with its lineup of premieres, parties, panels and more celebrity guests. Movieline is doing its part to get audiences in the mood, giving sneaks on many of the titles appearing in the festival's Narrative and Documentary competitions with comments from the real stars at the ten day event - the filmmakers. Yesterday, ML published its first round of filmmaker interviews and trailers screening in the tests competition and several more are featured today.
Call Me Kuchu, directed by Katherine Fairfax Wright, Malika Zouhali-Worrall [Documentary Competition]
To be openly gay in Uganda is to risk imprisonment and death. The stirring and heartbreaking Call Me Kuchu exposes the horrors of a homophobic government — its hatred fueled by right wing American evangelicals — that terrorizes the LGBT community. Yet brave men and women like David Kato, the country’s first openly gay activist, have fought back at great risk. This intimate and impassioned documentary takes us inside this life and death struggle for human rights. Whether you are familiar with Katos’s story or hearing it for the first time, you will find this a shattering and inspiring testament. [Courtesy of Los Angeles Film Festival]
Responses by Katherine Fairfax Wright and Malika Zouhali-Worrall:
Wright and Zouhali-Worrall's take on the film:
In Uganda, a proposed Anti-Homosexuality Bill threatens to make homosexuality punishable by death. David Kato - Uganda’s first openly gay man - and his fellow activists work against the clock to defeat the legislation while combatting vicious persecution in their daily lives. But no one is prepared for the brutal murder that shakes their movement to its core and sends shock waves around the world.
And why audiences should check out Call Me Kuchu at the LA Film Festival:
Call Me Kuchu is an intimate portrait of a courageous man determined to bring an end to the discriminatory status quo in his country. In depicting the last year in his life, the film introduces the viewer to the David Kato we knew, and David Kato as he saw himself, before he was so suddenly and tragically murdered.
The film also sheds light on the stark parallels between the situation for LGBT communities in both Uganda and the United States, illustrating not only the role of American evangelicals in the now notorious Ugandan Anti-Homosexuality Bill, but also what can transpire in a democracy when fundamental human rights are left up to a popular vote.
Realizing how the story came together...
During our initial shoot, David mostly played the role of fixer, advising us on whom to contact and diligently introducing us to a multitude of his friends and colleagues in the LGBT, or “kuchu” community. It wasn’t until we got home from that first shoot, and began to really comb through the footage and story-lines, that we realized that the man known as the “grandfather of the kuchus” was indeed one of the most outspoken and inspired activists in East Africa, and hugely charismatic to boot. It soon became clear that he was the protagonist of Call Me Kuchu.
…and comments on the trailer:
Over recent years, the vast majority of the international news coverage about the LGBT community in Uganda has been based on a narrative of victimization. During our first shoot, we learned that this was only half the story--so we decided to make a film that goes further: a nuanced narrative that shows David and Kampala’s kuchus boldly working to change their fate, and that of other kuchus across Africa.
Sun Kissed, directed by Adi Lavy and Maya Stark [Documentary Competition]
With remarkable strength of spirit, a husband and wife examine their lives as they search for answers as to why their children and others in their small Navajo reservation have been stricken with XP, an extremely rare pediatric disorder that turns sunlight into a deadly foe. Crafting a sensitive, intricate film that organically expands beyond the tragedy of one family to encompass the story of an entire community, directors Maya Stark and Adi Lavy unearth familial taboos, a disturbing history of forced migration and a cultural belief system of cosmic karma in this powerful documentary. [Courtesy of Los Angeles Film Festival]
Responses by Adi Lavy and Maya Stark:
And they give their take on Sun Kissed:
Sun Kissed is a film about a life-changing journey of rediscovery. When a Navajo couple learns that their children have a disorder that makes exposure to sunlight fatal, they find out that their reservation is a hotbed for this rare genetic disease and they go on a journey to find out why. On that journey, they confront cultural taboos, tribal history and their own unconventional choices to learn the shocking truth: The consequences of the Navajos’ “Long Walk” — their forced relocation by the U.S. military in 1864 — are far from over. Ultimately their children’s rare genetic disorders sets them off on a journey that makes them redefine who they are as modern day Navajos.
Why audiences should check out Sun Kissed at the LA Film Festival:
There is nothing else like Sun Kissed at LAFF, because it is a story that has never been told before with rare access to the Navajo community that is otherwise very suspicious of outsiders. It combines verite scenes with a level of intimacy that only few docs have reached, and unravels like a classical mystery with one unsolved question – why are all these Navajo kids born with this mysterious genetic disorder.
We believe that the film’s message is very important when the world is becoming less tolerant to minorities and to the “others.” Even though Sun Kissed is an all American story, this film serve as a cautionary tale of what happens when we try to colonize and assimilate another group of people. Few of us ever realize that 150 years later, people are still dealing with the effects of what we have done. In that sense, Dorey and Yolanda’s intimate tale embodies the larger story of their tribe. We hope that this important and compelling story will be as impactful for audiences as it has been for us.
Some tales from making the film...
After two years of filming the movie, when Dorey and Yolanda had finally met other XP families on the Reservation and discovered there might be a connection to the Long Walk, we found ourselves confronted by forces that didn’t want us to make this film. The taboo surrounding any discussion of the Long Walk was so great, that we were stonewalled by members of the community and almost gave up on the project. As outsiders to the Navajo community we wanted to be respectful of their culture. We realized that it wasn’t our place to move forward with the story and decided to pack up and go home, until Dorey and Yolanda asked us not to give up on their story. They realized how deeply they had internalized the Western narrative about the Long Walk, and wanted to finally understand what had happened there from their point of view. It was then that we realized how important this story is, and we found the strength and justification to push forward with Dorey and Yolanda as they went up against the silence and taboos. The very process of making the movie showed what they were up against in their quest for answers. As we continued shooting, several members of the Navajo community came forward and championed the cause, believing that these controversial issues should be talked about and dealt with. That’s what’s beginning to happen on the Reservation today.
Some thoughts on the trailer:
We tried to find the delicate balance between telling enough of the story of Sun Kissed and intriguing audiences but not revealing too much of Dorey and Yolanda’s journey. Because Sun Kissed is a journey of discovery, we did not want to create one big spoiler but we wanted to give enough information so that audiences will understand that there is more to this film than children with a rare genetic disorder. What the trailer tips off is that it’s a story that starts with a search for the origin of a single gene and quickly unravels to explore the larger narrative of a nation impacted – culturally, religiously and physically – by historical events.
Breakfast With Curtis, directed by Laura Colella [Narrative
Over the course of a balmy east coast summer, an introverted, bespectacled teenager is brought into the strange and delightful world of his bohemian neighbors. What unfolds, against the backdrop of lush flowerbeds and overgrown vegetable patches, is a mirthful story of unlikely and rekindled friendships. But for all of its wine-soaked, pot-infused dreaminess, Breakfast is firmly rooted in reality. The rambling purple house where the action happens is writer/director/co-star Laura Colella’s, and her captivating cast is composed of her very own housemates and neighbors.Despite the homespun approach and unfettered narrative, Colella’s smartly written, tightly directed tale has a distinct vision and clear intention, one joyously devoted to the pleasure principle. [Courtesy of Los Angeles Film Festival]
Responses by Laura Colella:
Colella gives her take on the film:
A troubled 14 year-old’s life is shifted in a new direction by his neighbor, a bookseller who has delusions of grandeur fueled by red wine. It’s about the experience of having a seminal summer that rocks your world, and also about letting go of old grudges.
And why people should check Breakfast with Curtis out at the LA Film Festival:
It’s very fun and unique. Many early viewers have said they want to keep spending time with the people in the movie, and come hang out where we filmed it (at my house)! Also, anyone who comes to our world premiere on 6/17 is invited to the after-party!
Some quick anecdotes from the set:
I made this film with my neighbors, who are all great actors (and characters). We would shoot for only a few hours a day, and the budget was so low that I didn’t provide any craft services, and people would just go home if they needed a drink or snack.
Birth Story: Ina May Gaskin and The Farm Midwives, directed by Sara Lamm and Mary Wigmore [Documentary Competition]
In the early 1970s, Ina May Gaskin and the courageous Midwives of the Farm commune inspired the modern midwifery movement. Today, their efforts continue at the Farm Clinic and across the country, working against an ever-growing hospital culture of intervention and C-section births. Revealing the Midwives’ stories with intelligence and wit, directors Sara Lamm and Mary Wigmore weave extensive archival footage, enlightening interviews and contemporary stories into a beguiling document of past and present. Through Ina May and the Midwives, Lamm and Wigmore portray childbirth in empowering and thrilling ways we’ve never seen before. The result is not just an illuminating documentary, but a joyful rallying call to see humanity through a new lens. [Courtesy of Los Angeles Film Festival]
Responses by Sara Lamm and Mary Wigmore:
The directors give their take on Birth Story:
Birth Story is about an incredible group of women who taught themselves how to deliver babies on a hippie commune in the 1970s. It's sweet, funny, educational, and it honors women's leadership and women's bodies in a time when both are under political attack in our country. Plus, the film features original music by Fleet Foxes front man, Robin Pecknold.
…And why audiences should check it out at the LA Film Festival:
This film is about community, and about how much we can accomplish when we work together, so we expect the experience of seeing it in the shared space of a theater will be very special. Also, this movie may show the only breech birth in the history of cinema. (Note to film historians: is that true?) Watching that scene in the company of two hundred people will be something to remember forever.
Tales from the shoot:
Besides our own birth experiences, before making this film we had never seen a baby being born. And so, after a week of waiting around in Nashville for one of our subjects to go into labor, we were impressed with how much dedication it takes for midwives, doulas, and doctors to be on call all the time. And, just at the point where we thought we couldn't take the suspense any longer, dear Heather went into labor. Once we were at her house, and the Christmas tree was on, and her mother was making cookies, we just couldn't believe how beautiful and simple it all was. Then, when she pushed her baby out, we were blown away--she was calm and beautiful in labor (just like Ina May says women should be). What also struck us was the camaraderie between Ina May, the newest Farm Midwife Stacie Smith-Hunt, and Heather's mother, who was a labor and delivery nurse for many years. A lightbulb went off for us--ah, its hard being on call, but wow birth is not only sacred, but when everything goes well, its also a lot of FUN. Afterwards, even though it was 2 in the morning, we had so much energy that we went to a bar and drank two beers.
Some thoughts on the clip:
In this clip, Ina May and the other Farm Midwives talk about the writing of their famous 1976 book, Spiritual Midwifery--it's a collection of birth stories and an educational manual that's had a huge impact on women all over the world. For nearly forty years now, women have passed it along to their newly pregnant friends who in turn give it to their newly pregnant friends. (In fact, friends passed the book on to us when we were each pregnant, and that's how we became interested in making this movie.) We think the book has had such a long life because it's one of the only things out there that encourages a reader to think of birth as a beautiful, positive, empowering experience.
Read more of Movieline's coverage of the LA Film Festival here.