A fifty-year journey encompassing the roots of American music, the upheavals of the civil rights movement, the strength of memory, the enduring power of this foundational music, and a reflection on the treasures of personal experience, both lost and found.
By Ted Reed
When I was moving my Beverly, Massachusetts office two years ago, I uncovered my 16mm black and white film that I made as a film student in 1971. Filmed with my friend Tim Treadway, we traveled from Boston through Kentucky, Tennessee, Mississippi, and Louisiana to find and record some of the last living blues legends. My first film, THINKING OUT LOUD, a twenty-minute documentary, was seen at several festivals, and then stored away.
Fast forward fifty years. After I uncovered my stored film, I was determined to retrace my 1971 journey to see what had changed in the birthplace of the blues. On this journey, while I was looking for the source of the blues in the flatland cotton fields of the Mississippi Delta, and the lonely highways that crisscrossed the region, I felt the presence of the spirits of the departed blues artists. I also found a new respect for the cultural value of a musical form that had been all but ignored in the south of a half-century ago. Today, rock fans, from all over the world, raised on music adopted from rural Black communities, were flocking to that wellspring in record numbers. In many states, museums and historic markers had sprung up to guide a steadily growing caravan of international tourists. Venues from roadside Juke Joints to newly constructed concert halls offered musicians, both veterans and young performers, places to perform almost every night of the week.
My fifty-year journey led to the compilation of then and now in my award-winning documentary film, THE BLUES TRAIL REVISITED. A ninety-minute film, created for digital and theatrical release, features exclusive performances with some of America’s true blues legends, old and new. It explores how the blues has changed in the last fifty years, its impact on American culture, popular music, and the economy of the American south.
Recent accolades for my film include one by the renowned Joyce Kulhawik, previously the arts and entertainment anchor for CBS affiliate WBZ-TV News in Boston, another by Roger Stolle, owner of Cat Head Promotions which runs the annual Juke Joint Festival in Clarksdale, Mississippi, and also Paul Benjamin, who manages several Blues Festivals throughout the US.
“The film puts you in the passenger seat right next to the filmmaker rounding the bend on a fifty-year old odyssey: to excavate the last living blues legends and his own youthful filmmaking past. Reed once again rattles back through time and the deep south, brushing the dust off the towns, tunes, and sweat-soaked juke joints where the blues bloomed– and still do. The movie is a sweet sad song of praise for those unsung, who wove their troubles and dreams into the original fabric of American music.”
Joyce Kulhawik, Arts & Entertainment Critic
“A story of blues friends, fans and follow through, Ted Reed’s remarkable BLUES TRAIL REVISITED spans 50 years—tying together past Southern blues traditions with those of the present day and perhaps even the future.”
Roger Stolle, Cat Head Promotions
“The memories that this film brought back were outstanding and made me want to go back and discover some of the places that I missed…This movie will also make anyone that is not into the Blues or Mississippi change their mind.”
Paul Benjamin, North Atlantic Blues Festival
In 2019, using concert footage originally intended for THE BLUES TRAIL REVISITED, I released the award-winning documentary film JUKE JOINT FESTIVAL REVISITED during the virtual Juke Joint Festival event in Clarksdale, Mississippi. My primary goal was to help drive donations to the Blues Foundation COVID-19 fund, and the Mississippi Blues Benevolent Fund that supports Blues musicians.
Just over a year ago, I partnered with Visit Clarksdale and The Blues Foundation to launch a biweekly podcast, The Blues Trail Revisited podcast, available for download at https://bluestrailrevisited.podbean.com/.
I continue to host screenings to sold out venues such as The Balboa in San Francisco, California and The Cabot in Beverly, Massachusetts.
(Pub:) Grammy and Emmy-award winning documentary filmmaker Ted Reed has been producing, directing, writing, and shooting films and television since the 1970s, creating documentaries, commercials, animated features, and broadcast and streaming series. His storytelling expertise has led to award-winning shows about gender equality, the future of communications technology, immigration, national parks, West Indian music, space tourism, assisted suicide, Jewish innovators, and handgun violence. He is the recipient of multiple awards.
During his career he partnered with the MIT team who pioneered internet streaming video technology, produced New England’s first local all-digital TV broadcast, and pioneered the use of interactive video for large business meetings.
Ted has taught and lectured at Harvard University, Tufts University, Boston University, Endicott College and the Boston Film and Video Foundation. He has brought filmmaking courses to elementary schools, community groups and retirement homes, and continues to run film, photography, and music workshops at his office in Gloucester, Massachusetts.
John Stimpson, writer, producer, director, editor and more seen everywhere now.
We just never know what subject or story John Stimpson will be taking up next. He crosses genres from the dark to the light with engaging stories that he makes right here in Massachusetts. Currently he is one of our most prolific filmmakers pushing out movies about once a year. Movies that get picked up and that get seen.
GHOST LIGHT, John Stimpson’s haunted comedy about a misfit Shakespearean troupe who unleashes the notorious curse of Macbeth, premiered at the LA Film Festival September 22nd. The film is repped by CAA and the filmmakers have high hopes for a good sale coming out of the premiere.
Written and produced by Stimpson and veteran producer, Geoffrey Taylor under the Worcester based H9 Films shingle, the film was shot last fall in Groton and Concord. “It’s a Massachusetts film through and through,” said Stimpson. The story takes place in the Berkshires, and had a crew entirely based out of New England. Key collaborators included Director of Photography Terrence
Hayes, Production Designer Chad Detwiller, Costume Designer Joanna Murphy, UPM Luke Ramsey and composer Ed Grenga.
The film stars Roger Bart (THE PRODUCERS, A SERIES OF UNFORTUNATE EVENTS), Tom Riley (Da Vinci’s Demons, Dark Heart), Shannyn Sossamon (SLEEPY HOLLOW, A KNIGHT’S TALE), Danielle Campbell (THE
ORIGINALS, FAMOUS IN LOVE), Scott Adsit (30 Rock, BIG HERO 6), Carol Kan (UNBREAKABLE KIMMY SCHMIDT, TAXI), and Cary Elwes (THE PRINCESS BRIDE, ROBIN HOOD MEN IN TIGHTS). GHOST LIGHT is the first film Elwes and Carol Kane have appeared in together since THE PRINCESS BRIDE.
The film also stars several local actors including, Caroline Portu, Alex Portenko, Liliane Klein, Zele Avradopoulos, Ken Cheeseman, Maureen Keiller and Mary Callanan. Julie Arvedon Knowlton of Slate Casting handled the local casting.
GHOST LIGHT centers around the crazy superstitions of the theatre,” said Stimpson. When a disgruntled understudy (Tom Riley) throws caution to the wind and deliberately utters the forbidden name of the “Scottish Play” on stage the curse of the Bard’s witches begins to reveal itself and the production falls further and further into chaos. “We may have been tempting fate ourselves,” Stimpson explains. “Carol Kane was very concerned that we were in fact saying the name of the play repeatedly during our shooting. I convinced her that our set was actually a converted barn and not a theatre which made us immune to the curse.” Kane plays, Madeline Styne the troupe’s Grande Dame. “She is an absolute treasure and a comic genius. What a joy she was to work with,” commented Stimpson.
Roger Bart and Stimpson go way back. They sang in a bar on Martha’s Vineyard together when they were in college. Bart won a Tony award for his portrayal of Snoopy in “You’re a Good Man Charlie Brown” and is
also known for singing the role of Hercules in the 1997 Disney fi lm. “I reached out to Roger first. I thought he’d be wonderful in the role of Henry Asquith, the long suffering director of Shakespeare on Wheels,” said Stimpson. “I knew back in the 80’s at the Seafood Shanty in Edgartown that Roger had something special. It’s been so fun to follow his career from afar and now to finally have the chance to work together.”
Stimpson and co-writer and producer GeoffTaylor began the process of bringing GHOST LIGHT to the screen over two years ago. Talking about projects at a Red Sox game, Stimpson pitched the idea for GHOST LIGHT to Taylor and the partnership was launched. Taylor who produced many projects with Paul Mazursky including DOWN AND OUT IN BEVERLY HILLS and MOSCOW ON THE HUDSON, moved back from Los Angeles to Concord, MA to raise his family in 2011.
Post production on the film was all done locally as well. Stimpson cut the film in his Worcester office, special effects (of which there are many) were done by Sandbox VFX in Pittsfield, Chris Anderson mixed at The Outpost at WGBH and Rob Bessette color timed the fi lm at Finish. “What a great
collaboration it was,” says Stimpson. “And a great example of a local project born and bred here in Massachusetts and made possible by the Mass Film Tax Credit.”
Congratulations to John and the GHOST LIGHT team (cast and crew) for the film’s acceptance at the LA Film Festival. And, just added before we go to press at the Woodstock Film Festivals where tickets are
Now we’ll be waiting to fi nd out what will John Stimpson, a valued and treasured Massachusetts filmmaker, be producing next.
Q&A with Matt Leslie, writer of the Sundance film, SUMMER OF 84
By Carl Hansen
Carl Hansen (CH): WHERE ARE YOU FROM ORIGINALLY AND HOW LONG HAVE YOU LIVED IN LOS ANGELES?
Matt Leslie (ML): I’m originally from Ipswich, MA, and I’ve lived in LA since 2004 (with the exception of a two year move to NYC). I actually came out west following a girl — my then Fiancée (now wife) got a job in LA so that was that.
CH: WHAT ATTRACTED YOU TO THE CRAFT OF WRITING AND WHAT KEEPS YOU WRITING?
ML: Back in middle school and high school, my teachers would always tell me I was a strong writer, but I didn’t take it seriously because I had no idea what I wanted to do with my life. In college, I got my BS in Communications with a focus in Advertising, which was a degree that was super broad and allowed me to use my writing ability in the future professionally. Somehow. But that “somehow” eluded me. Then, as I mentioned, I fortuitously wound up in LA and there was the movie business. Something that always seemed so far away and impossible to be a part of was suddenly a possibility. As a movie lover, I started reading every book on screenwriting craft I could find. Then I started writing scripts, and here we are…
As for what keeps me writing, there are two things:
1) I love writing movies. It’s a blast and I’ll do it ’til the day I die if I can. And…
2) My writing partner. His name is Stephen J. Smith and we hold each other accountable. Which is rarely necessary, but on the off chance I’m not feeling it (or vice versa), that ticking clock keeps us writing, pushing each other to be productive.
Steve’s a ridiculously prolific writer. While we were writing scripts years ago, little did I know he was also writing what would become a 500+ page novel called THE SABRAEL CONFESSION. Guy’s a G!
CH: WHAT MOVIES/TV SHOWS/CONTENT INSPIRE YOU? WHAT GENRES DO YOU PREFER WRITING?
ML: This is a tough question because what inspires me evolves constantly. I do have that list of classic flicks I grew up with that I love and could watch all day every day (e.g. THE GOONIES, THE BURBS, GROUNDHOG DAY, THE SHINING, THE THING, THE OMEN, and on and on and on…), but when it comes to new movies that inspire me, it’s all over the place. I haven’t been watching as much TV as I’d like because I’ve been writing so much, but a goal I have for 2018 is to make more time for it.
As for what I love writing, it’s less about genre and more about concept. If you tell me a logline and my mind explodes with plot and character, I’m in. That said, many high concept ideas come from the thriller/horror space and that’s the sandbox we’re playing in these days. We’ve had some success there, we’re having a blast and it’s creating momentum. Maybe one day down the line we’ll branch out and dabble in other genres, but for now, that’s where we are.
CH: HOW LONG HAVE YOU AND YOUR WRITING PARTNER, STEPHEN J. SMITH, BEEN WORKING TOGETHER, HOW DID YOU MEET, AND WHAT MAKES THE PARTNERSHIP SUCCESSFUL? HOW MANY SCRIPTS HAVE YOU WORKED ON TOGETHER?
ML: I met Steve at a tiny writers group in Silverlake about 10 years ago. We were the consistent members in a revolving door of writers and we grew to recognize each other as being more insightful, imaginative and dedicated than the others in the group. Then we wound up bumping into each other at a couple other writing events, like the Screenwriting Expo in LA (is that still a thing?) and the two year Writers Bootcamp program in Santa Monica.
Shortly after that, the 2008 WGA strike and economic collapse happened and the freelance copywriting gigs Steve had been working at the studios dried up. He had to move back to where he’s from in Wisconsin for a copywriting gig he landed at Kohl’s Department Stores’ corporate office. Oddly enough, that’s when we decided to try writing together…
Steve found this now-defunct screenwriting competition called “The Script-a-thon.” The idea was to write a feature length script in thirty days and see if your script wins the competition. Way we saw it, it put our feet to the fire so we had to produce something, plus we’d see if we work well together. Long story short, we wrote a high concept comedy script called ABANDON SHIP! And we won the grand prize. Granted, it was no Nichol Fellowship but there were over one thousand entries so we felt pretty emboldened. Plus, we had a blast. That was seven years ago now. Since then, we’ve written eight feature screenplays, one TV pilot and countless treatments/pitches.
If I had to pinpoint why we have a successful dynamic, I’d say it’s because we both have zero ego when it comes to ideas. The best idea always wins with us, regardless of who comes up with it.
CH: WHAT’S YOUR PROCESS FOR WRITING WITH A PARTNER? (IS ONE OF YOU IN FRONT OF THE KEYBOARD OR DO YOU TAKE TURNS WITH DRAFTS, ETC.?)
ML: Because Steve’s in Wisconsin and I’m in LA, we’ve become pros at collaborating remotely. We break screenplays into 12 sequences — Act 1 is 3 sequences, Act 2 is 6 and Act 3 is 3, each sequence running somewhere between 8 and 12 pages. So we’ll hop on marathon phone calls during the outlining process, nailing down every beat throughout all 12 sequences, because when you’re collaborating with someone, you have to have your roadmap fully fleshed out or when you each write your respective sequences, they won’t match up when you combine them. We use Google Docs to outline because it allows real-time collaboration. Then, once our 12-sequence outline is done (which is usually 20-30 pages long and often includes some dialogue), we’ll go off and write our assigned sequences. On the first pass, I always take the odd sequences and Steve takes the evens. Then, once we’re done writing the 6 sequences we’re each responsible for, we switch — I rewrite his sequences and he rewrites mine. At that point, it’s back to marathon calls, walking through the entire script, talking out problems, fine-tuning dialogue, narrative prose, etc.
Also, we use an awesome screenwriting app called Writer Duet, because unlike Final Draft it allows real-time collaboration like Google Docs, but in screenplay format. It’s a super robust program with everything you need from first draft all the way through production. We used it for all revisions on our film SUMMER OF ’84 and it worked flawlessly. Also, their customer service is unreal. The dude who created the app is the one who responds to you and he is on the ball. Couldn’t recommend it highly enough. And no I wasn’t paid for this plug 😉
CH: WHERE DID THE IDEA FOR “SUMMER OF ’84” COME FROM? ANY REAL WORLD STORIES OF NIGHTMARE (OR SERIAL KILLER) NEIGHBORS?
ML: I grew up on this sleepy, suburban dead-end street in Ipswich, MA and I had some…… “Interesting” neighbors for sure, though nothing and no one scary or dangerous. Just more weird and mysterious. I’d walk up the same street every day after the school bus dropped me off, and there were certain people who lived on the street I’d always see. But then there were certain people who I don’t think I ever saw and my mind would explode with theories about those people. Who were these people? What did they do with their lives that I never saw them? Were they in the CIA? Were they serial killers? Like I said, sleepy town. Ha.
That said, back in like 1986, there were a string of home robberies that occurred on our street that really sent a chill through the community. No joke, that was when people started locking their doors. Crazy to me there was a time people didn’t lock their doors, but I guess the ’80s marked the end of that era in the ‘burbs. At least, it did in my neighborhood…
The characters in SUMMER OF ’84 are really an amalgamation of various friends, neighbors and events Steve and I experienced growing up, but I suspect our experience is what most kids experience living in suburbia. It’s a little boring, a little provincial, but every once in a while, something insane happens that snaps you back to the reality that bad things can happen there too. That’s basically the idea SUMMER OF ’84 taps into.
CH: HOW LONG DID IT TAKE YOU TO WRITE AND HOW MANY DRAFTS DID IT GO THROUGH BEFORE IT WAS PUT INTO PRODUCTION?
ML: SUMMER OF ’84 took us like three months to write, from idea through finished draft. When Gunpowder & Sky (the studio that financed the film) came on board, we did one rewrite to tighten the script and heighten some of the moments in the first half of Act 2 so that the momentum didn’t lag. They were great notes that got us from a 112 page script with pretty good pacing to a 104 page script that flew. But that was it, one rewrite.
Once we were in pre-production and production, we had to continue to adjust certain things due to locations changing and certain elements not clearing legal. For example, we had a kid wearing an Atari shirt in the draft that was green lit, but during pre-production, Atari said we couldn’t use their logo so it had to change. At the time, we were pretty devastated, but Van Toffler, the founder and CEO of Gunpowder & Sky, was previously the MTV Chief, so he worked his magic and scored us the MTV logo. Talk about a baller move. Sick. Love that guy.
Another example, this time of a location change, was that we had a setpiece at a roller rink. Only thing is, there are no roller rinks still in operation in Vancouver, BC where we shot. So that sequence had to change to a bowling alley and necessarily had to be overhauled because of it. Stuff like that…
CH: WHAT WAS IT LIKE BEING A WRITER AND ALSO A PRODUCER ON THE PROJECT? WAS THERE EVER AN INSTANCE WHERE SOMETHING IN THE SCRIPT WASN’T ABLE TO BE DONE DUE TO PRODUCTION CONCERNS OR SOMETHING THAT HAD TO CHANGE FROM WHAT WAS INITIALLY WRITTEN?
Being a writer-producer was awesome. Because had I just been the writer, I wouldn’t have been on set. So often in Hollywood, when it comes to features, the screenwriter isn’t involved once that final draft is handed in. But I wanted that experience. In TV right now, writers are the gods of the worlds they create and are empowered by networks accordingly. And look, TV is having a Renaissance. Film could be having a similar boom if writers were more empowered, but I digress…
To get that producer credit, I had to earn it. After writing the script, I attached the directors, a trio called Roadkill Superstar (RKSS). Since they’re Canadian, I thought it’d be attractive to potential financiers if I also attached a production services company in Canada that could not only crew us up, but also help us take advantage of Canadian tax incentives. I found a great company called Brightlight Pictures in Vancouver and they hopped on board. At that point, we needed a financier. My manager Jeff Portnoy at Bellevue Entertainment got me a meeting with Cody Zwieg at Supergravity Films, and while Cody loved the package, they couldn’t finance us at the budget we were looking for, so it didn’t go anywhere at the time. A few months later, I bumped into Cody at an industry holiday mixer and he informed me that Supergravity was being acquired by Gunpowder & Sky, a company that could finance our film at the budget we wanted, and that he wanted to help me get it done. By May of 2016, we had a green light.
As one of two producers on set (the other being Jameson Parker at Brightlight Pictures), I learned a ton. Every day on set is a massive learning experience because filmmaking is basically highly organized chaos. You’re thrown into the fire and you just figure stuff out because you have to. Our budget was honestly the exact right amount for this film, but it was still really tight on all of our 23 days of shooting. There were many times we wanted to get a certain shot and couldn’t afford it, or wished we had just a few more hours in a location but couldn’t afford it. Thankfully we had an awesome cast and crew and a supportive studio in Gunpowder & Sky, so we were able to overcome everything thrown at us and make a film I’m extremely proud of.
CH: HOW CLOSE IS THE FINISHED FILM TO THE SCRIPT THAT WAS WRITTEN?
ML: It’s really almost exact. There are a few improvised lines from our actors, but all in all, what you read is what you see. Again, during pre-production and production, some things had to change due to location changes and constraints and clearance issues, but none of that hurt the DNA of the film. We’d occasionally have to change dialogue on the fly if we all felt something wasn’t landing, but again, it was rare. And our directors and their talented DP Jean Philippe Bernier, translated the script to the screen beautifully.
CH: WHERE WERE YOU WHEN YOU HEARD THAT “SUMMER OF ’84” WAS ACCEPTED INTO SUNDANCE (I ASSUME IT WAS ON NOVEMBER 29TH)? WHAT WAS THAT MOMENT LIKE FOR YOU?
ML: Yup, November 29th. I was on my couch writing emails when I got an email from Cody Zwieg at Gunpowder & Sky. At first, because it wasn’t a phone call, when I saw the subject line “Sundance,” my heart sank and I assumed it was a rejection email. Nope… Turns out Cody just couldn’t call so he forwarded the email as soon as he could so we’d all see that we got in. Crazy. Still doesn’t feel real. The film premiered at the Library Theater in Park City at midnight on January 22, 2018 to a packed house. It was a surreal moment that I’ll never forget.
CH: WHAT’S NEXT?
ML: We have a feature script called THE HARROWING at a company called Cinelou (THE COMEDIAN, MR. CHURCH, and CAKE). It’s a supernatural thriller in the vein of ROSEMARY’S BABY but with a big plot twist at the end that’s gonna seriously shock audiences. In a good way. Can’t wait for that one to be on the big screen. Fingers crossed that gets green lit in 2018/19.
Beyond that, Steve and I have a lot of irons on the fire. We’re currently out with a TV pilot we’re hoping finds a home, and we have a feature that we’re gonna be writing on spec starting soon. We’re also attached to write a sci-fi-suspense digital series for Skybound (THE WALKING DEAD) that’s an offshoot of a really awesome videogame called OXENFREE (if you’re a gamer and you haven’t played it yet, you should). Plus we’re up for a number of other projects that we hope to come aboard. Again, fingers crossed… which is something I find myself saying alot these days.
CH: LOOKING BACK, WHAT ADVICE WOULD YOU GIVE YOURSELF AT THE OUTSET OF YOUR WRITING CAREER/WHAT ADVICE WOULD YOU GIVE TO A WRITER STARTING OUT?
ML: My biggest advice to writers is get into the entertainment industry. Be a PA on a movie set, be an assistant to a director or a producer (which is what I did — I worked for two producers as an assistant and then as a development exec and it opened lots of doors for me) and meet people in the business. Like everything in life, it’s all about who you know. There’s no place that’s MORE true than in Hollywood.
If I didn’t work in the business, I wouldn’t have met the directors of SUMMER OF ’84, which means that film wouldn’t have been made. Period. Because they were a big piece of the package that excited Gunpowder & Sky. These days, you usually need more than just a script, and I don’t know how you can manage that without relationships in the business.
For my first few years writing, having never been in the business at that point, I naively thought I’d write a script that wins a screenwriting competition, get representation that way, and be on the path to raking in serious dough as a screenwriter. Yeah, no. The odds of those stars aligning are beyond small. You’ve gotta get out here and MAKE it happen. Otherwise, I don’t care how talented you are, the odds are way stacked against you.
It’s a harsh reality to face when you live elsewhere while working a day job to get by and this is your dream. But it’s the truth.
CH: WHAT WAS THE RECEPTION OF THE FILM LIKE AT SUNDANCE AND SINCE? WHAT WAS THE EXPERIENCE LIKE OF HAVING A FILM IN THE FESTIVAL?
The film was warmly received at Sundance, which was really awesome for Steve and me. Everyone who works at Sundance, from the Programmers all the way down the line, were amazing, helpful, encouraging, and really just everything you could hope for.
There weren’t many film sales right out of the gate at this year’s Sundance, and we were no exception. Netflix and Amazon not buying left a pretty big void, but Gunpowder & Sky believed in our film, so they’re distributing the film themselves. We feel super fortunate to have them as partners in this process.
At the end of the day, all you want is for people to enjoy your movie and have fun for two hours, and it seems like we’re succeeding in that regard. Audience reaction on Twitter, etc. has been almost exclusively positive, which is really heartening.
CH: WHEN DOES “SUMMER OF ’84” COME OUT AND HOW CAN WE SEE IT?
The film comes out in select theaters on August 10th, and then it’ll be on VOD on August 24th. I have to say, it’s been pretty awesome to see the countless messages on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram from fans asking when they’ll finally be able to see it. The wait is almost over, and we cannot wait for the world to finally see SUMMER OF 84.
Beverly native Carl Hansen has written for IMAGINE since its inception. He is our reporter at large and he is an award-winning filmmaker and Emmy-winning producer who has been involved in various capacities with many successful unscripted and variety series. He won a Sports Emmy award for his involvement in “100,000 Cameras: Ohio State at Michigan” (Fox Sports) and was previously nominated for “89 Blocks” (FOX Sports). As a Co-Executive Producer he was nominated for a Primetime Emmy for “Shark Tank” (ABC). He was Supervising Producer on the critically-lauded and award-winning docu-series “Boston Med” (ABC News) where he was instrumental in coverage of the 2nd partial-face transplant in the U.S. and which led to many people signing up as organ donors for the first time. He is currently the director of production for Fox Sports Films. His credits are too numerous to mention.
Originally from Beverly, Massachusetts, Carl is a graduate of Beverly High School and Ithaca College. He currently resides in Los Angeles with his wife and son.
The Award-Winning LIYANA Opens #RoxFilm20 on Thursday, June 21 -Executive-produced by Thandie Newton
(HBO’s Westworld, MISSION IMPOSSIBLE II, and Crash)
A Boy. A Girl. A Dream: Love on Election Night Closes #RoxFilm20 on Sunday, June 30 at Fenway – The romantic drama premiered in the NEXT category at the 2018 Sundance Film Festival
The critically acclaimed film LIYANA, that’s part animated fable, part observational documentary, officially kicked off the 20th anniversary of the Roxbury International Film Festival on Thursday, June 21 at 7:00pm at the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston. Sakheni Dlamini, the film’s producer and
a graduate of Simmons College, was in attendance for a post-screening Q&A.
Directed and produced by husband-and wife team, Aaron and Amanda Kopp, LIYANA tells the story of how five orphaned Swazi children turn their past trauma into creative fuel for an original collective
fairytale, in which they send a young girl on a dangerous quest to save the day. The film is beautifully illustrated by Nigerian born art director Shofela Coker, teacher and co-founder of Coker Co-op, a collective that creates comics, sculptures, and digital media, and was awarded the Grand Jury Award for Best Documentary at the LA Film Festival and the Jury Award for Artistic Bravery at the Durban International Film Festival in South Africa.
A BOY. A GIRL. A DREAM: LOVE ON ELECTION NIGHT closes out RoxFilm on Sunday, June 30 at 6:30 p.m. at State Street Pavilion at Fenway. The contemporary love story stars Omari Hardwick (Power on
Starz) and Meagan Good (Think Like a Man, Star, Code Black) who meet on the night of the 2016 presidential election, fall in love, and challenge one another to pursue their broken dreams. Directed by Qasim Basir, the film also stars Jay Ellis from HBO’s Insecure and was executive produced by Good and Hardwick. Tickets can be purchased at https://m.bpt.me/event/3482771
Featured at this year’s RoxFilm is LOVE JACKED, a sophisticated small town romantic comedy centered around Maya, a headstrong 28-year-old with artistic ambitions and her father Ed, who wants a dutiful daughter to run the family store. Ed is shocked when Maya, asserting her independence, decides to travel to Africa for inspiration and returns with a fiancé who is not quite what he seems. The film stars Amber Stevens-West, Shamier Anderson, Keith David, Mike Epps, Demetrius Grosse, Lyriq Bent, Marla Gibbs, Angela Gibbs, and Nicole Lyn and is directed by Alfons Adetuyi.
The Roxbury International Film Festival (June 20-30) is a competitive festival that awards certificates in the categories of Audience Favorite, Narrative Film, Documentary Film, Narrative Short, Documentary Short, Youth, Emerging Filmmaker, with a special award named after award-winning filmmaker Henry Hampton.
On Wednesday, June 20, RoxFilm and the Museum of Fine Arts presented a free “sunset cinema” screening of BLACK PANTHER in celebration of Juneteenth. The screening was held at 8:30 p.m., on the Huntington Avenue lawn (weather permitting), with live music, lawn games, and art-making activities beginning at 7:00 p.m.
For aspiring filmmakers and producers, the festival is hosting the free event, “From Martin to MIT: A Conversation with Topper Carew” on Sunday, June 24 (Location/Time: TBA).
The intimate film gathering Dinner and a Movie returned on Monday, June 25 at the Haley House Bakery Café with Reelblack founder Mike D. discussing his new project Black Film Now, as well as the importance of supporting African American films and their directors.
In celebration of its 30th anniversary, RoxFilm and Young Black Professionals bring a throwback screening of COMING TO AMERICA to Hibernian Hall on Tuesday, June 26 at 7:30 p.m.
Sponsored by Onyx Spectrum Technology, Massport, Boston Red Sox, SAG/AFTRA, Blue Cross Blue Shield, and Leah S. Randolph of HALO Productions, Black Star Enterprises, and more. The Festival will also feature Q&A with filmmakers, events and filmmaker hangouts.
Under the direction of Lisa Simmons, the Roxbury International Film Festival (RoxFilm) supports media makers of color and others who have an interest in creating and developing new and diverse images of people of color in film, video and performing arts. The festival collaborates with many arts institutions and organizations whose mission it is to promote and support independent artists and contribute to the creative economy of the Commonwealth.
Adaptive Studios, which recently rebooted HBO’s Project Greenlight with Matt Damon and Ben Affleck, has acquired the rights to Astral, a dramatic thriller digital series created by Canadian filmmaker and actress Sonja O’Hara.
O’Hara (Amazon’s Creative Control) is also set to act and direct in the short-form series, a rare inclusion for indie episodic acquisitions. O’Hara, who is a speaker this week on the Indie TV panel at SXSW, said, “This is the time to be a female filmmaker and I’m excited to collaborate with Adaptive Studios to bring this provocative, inclusive, feminist story to life.”
ASTRAL is a provocative digital series that follows three unfulfilled millennial girls who share an out-of-body experience in a packed subway car and are scouted to attend an exclusive academy of Astral Projection.
About Sonja O’Hara:
O’Hara landed the overall deal by meeting Adaptive‘s VP of Development, Digital at ITVFest (the Independent Television Festival) in Manchester, Vermont, a boutique festival for the world’s best indie creators and executives, where O’Hara’s previous series Doomsday won “Best Series”.O’Hara previously created and starred in Doomsday, a critically acclaimed web series she made independently (see the first two episodes on Amazon Prime). Her pilot was awarded “Best Series” at ITVFest, HollyWeb Fest and Brooklyn WebFest and was nominated for the 2017 Streamy Award and the 2018 Indie Series Award. She also won “Best Director” at the prestigious New York Television Festival and was chosen as one of the “Ten Filmmakers To Watch” by Independent Magazine.
Adaptive Studios, the studios behind Coin Heist (Netflix), has made a push into digital content with the launch of The Runner for Verizon’s go90. The upstart studio that has put an emphasis on short-form content for digital platforms, has closed a $16.5 million Series B round of funding, led by AMC Networks with participation from Atwater Capital. Adaptive’s partners to date have included HBO, Netflix, Verizon, Miramax, FX Networks, YouTube Red, Fox Animation, 21 Laps, Lionsgate, Gunpowder & Sky, Bona Fide Production and Blackpills. The series will be executive produced by Perrin Chiles, TJ Barrack, Marc Joubert, Stephen Christensen and Kate Grady.
Boston MA – Nominations for the 24th annual Chlotrudis Awards were finalized by the film group’s nominating committee this past weekend.
Luca Guadagnino’s lush coming of age CALL ME BY YOUR NAME was dominant among the 36 films nominated, winning 9 nods, including Director, Production Design and Best Actor. Placing second was I, TONYA, starring Margot Robbie, which earned 7 nominations including Best Actress and Editing.
Both films were also among the Best Movie nominations. The other films rounding out that category were Japanese legend Koreeda’s AFTER THE STORM; LITTLE BOXES, starring Nelsan Ellis in his last role; and Jim Jarmusch’s PATERSON, which was the 3rd most nominated film, garnering 6 nods.
More than 20% of the nominated films this year were helmed by women, including BEACH RATS’ Eliza Hittman, who earned a spot in the Best Director category. Other films with female directors that got nominated were MUDBOUND, Dee Rees’ stunning sophomore effort; FACES PLACES, legendary filmmaker Agnes Vardas’ likely last film; and the charming feline doc KEDI, Ceyda Korun’s debut feature film.
In the Society’s most prestigious category, the Buried Treasure, the nominees are: DAVE MADE A MAZE, a unique adventure film about a frustrated artist and his creation; the compelling documentary THE DEATH AND LIFE OF MARSHA P. JOHNSON, about an icon of the queer and trans movements; Dee Rees’ MUDBOUND, a story of 2 families working the same land in 40s Mississippi; PATTI CAKE$, whose eponymous white lead dreams of being a rapper; the latest from the Dardennes brothers, psychological drama THE UNKNOWN GIRL; and WINDOW HORSES, an animiated film based on a graphic novel written by its Asian-Canadian director.
The Buried Treasure is the only category with eligibility requirements:
nominated films must have earned less than $250,000 in its U.S. theatrical run. Members submit 1 film they feel strongly was given distributional short shrift and deserve a wider audience. Once the final ballot is set, all members voting in the category must verify that they have watched at least 5 of the nominated films.
The Chlotrudis Society for Independent Film highlights its commitment to independent and foreign film in style, holding its CHLOTRUDIS AWARDS ceremony in early spring. This latest edition will be an intimate dinner held Sunday March 18th at a venue to be announced later in the month, and the public is invited to join Chlotrudis and members of Boston’s film community.
The Chlotrudis Society for Independent Film is a Boston-based non-profit group that teaches people to view film actively and experience the world through independent film, and encourages discussion. The group works with film festivals, local art-houses and theatres, production companies, directors and actors to bring creative, quality films to the attention of audiences and film-lovers.
Here follows the complete list of the nominations for the 24th Annual Chlotrudis Awards:
After the Storm
Call Me By Your Name
Dave Made a Maze
The Death & Life of Marsha P. Johnson
The Unknown Girl
Hirokazu Koreeda for After the Storm
Eliza Hittman for Beach Rats
Luca Guadagnino for Call Me By Your Name
Kogonada for Columbus
Brett Haley for The Hero
Jim Jarmusch for Paterson
Timothee Chalamet for Call Me By Your Name
Sam Elliott for The Hero
Nelsan Ellis for Little Boxes
Harry Dean Stanton for Lucky
Ethan Hawke for Maudie
Adam Driver for Paterson
Brooklynn Prince for The Florida Project
Margot Robbie for I, Tonya
Aubrey Plaza for Ingrid Goes West
Sally Hawkins for The Shape of Water
Holly Hunter for Strange Weather
BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR
Michael Stuhlbarg for Call Me By Your Name
Willem Dafoe for The Florida Project
Barry Keoghan for The Killing of a Sacred Deer
Bill Paton for Mean Dreams
Richard Jenkins for The Shape of Water
BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS
Kirin Kiki for After the Storm
Bria Vinaite for The Florida Project
Laura Prepon for The Hero
Allison Janney for I, Tonya
Golshifteh Farahani for Paterson
Carrie Coon for Strange Weather
BEST PERFORMANCE BY AN ENSEMBLE CAST
Call Me By Your Name
The Killing of a Sacred Deer
The Little Hours
The Shape of Water
BEST PRODUCTION DESIGN
Call Me By Your Name
Dave Made a Maze
The Shape of Water
Samuel DeShors for Call Me By Your Name
Elisha Christian for Columbus
Pascal Marti for Frantz
Andrew Droz Palermo for A Ghost Story
Dan Laustsen for The Shape of Water
A Ghost Story
I Am Not Your Negro
BEST USE OF MUSIC IN A FILM
Call Me By Your Name
BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY
Call Me By Your Name
The Girl With All the Gifts
The Little Hours
BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY
After the Storm
Abacus: Small Enough to Fail
City of Ghosts
I Am Not Your Negro
JAGVELD (Hunting Emma), WHAT CHILDREN DO and CITY OF JOY won top Jury Awards; CHARGED: THE EDUARDO GARCIA STORY won Best of the Fest Audience Award
The Woods Hole Film Festival, the oldest film festival on Cape Cod and the Islands, concluded its 26th year on Saturday, August 5th, with the announcement of this year’s winners at the Captain Kidd Restaurant in Woods Hole. Although the festival has historically focused on filmmakers from and films set in New England the festival has more recently expanded its international focus: all but one of the Jury Award winners this year is from or set outside the U.S.
WHAT CHILDREN DO (USA), a comedy written and directed by Dean Peterson about two estranged sisters who return to their home town to take care of their dying grandmother that features John Early (BEATRIZ AT DINNER), won the Jury Award for Best Narrative Feature-Comedy. JAGVELD (Hunting Emma), a thriller directed by South African filmmaker Byron Davis about a woman who is hunted by police after she witnesses a murder they commit had its international premiere at the festival where it won the Jury Award for Best Narrative Feature-Drama. Madeleine Gavin’s CITY OF JOY (USA), about the women’s leadership center in the Democratic Republic of the Congo co-founded by radical feminist Eve Ensler (THE VAGINA MONOLOGUES), won the Jury Award for Best Documentary Feature. CHARGED: THE EDUARDO GARCIA STORY (Mexico), a documentary feature directed by Phillip Baribeau about the eponymous chef and adventurer who slowly regained his life after being shocked by 2400 volts of electricity in a freak accident, won the Best of the Fest Audience Award.
“We received more than 1000 submissions—from everywhere from Mashpee to Maine and South Africa to Sri Lanka—from which our programming committee selected 52 narrative and documentary features and 81 narrative, documentary, and animated shorts,” said Founder and Executive Director Judy Laster. “Consistent with our mission to support the careers of emerging independent filmmakers, more than 100 filmmakers attended the Festival, the majority of which were making their directorial debuts, such as RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK actress Karen Allen,” she added.
Additional Jury Award winners include: Best Narrative Short-Drama: PROMISE by Tian Xie (China); Best Narrative Short-Comedy: RHONNA AND DONNA by Daina O. Pusic (UK); Best Documentary Short: PATAGONIA AXUL: THE INTERCONNECTION OF LIFE by Daniel Casado (Chile); Best Animation Short: A LITTLE GREY by Simon Hewitt (Mexico).
Additional Audience Award winners include: Best Feature Drama: BLUR CIRCLE by Christopher J. Hansen (USA); Best Feature Comedy: QUAKER OATHS by Louisiana Kreutz (USA); Best Feature Documentary: DATELINE SAIGON by Thomas D. Herman (USA); Best Short Drama: GAME by Jennie Donohue (USA); Best Short Comedy: THE FINAL SHOW by Dana Nachman, starring Marion Ross and Nancy Dussault (USA) Best Short Documentary: BLIND SHSHI by Eric Heimbold (USA); Best Short Animation: STARS by Han Zhang (USA);
Jury members included: Feature Narratives: Future Films USA Vice President Ricky Margolis; Golden Child Ventures Producer and Attorney Sandy Missakian; and Circus Road Films Founder Glen Reynolds. Feature Documentaries: Principle Pictures founder, and award-winning director and producer Beth Murphy; documentary filmmaker, media studies lecturer, and founder of the UMASS Boston Film Series Chico Colvard; producer, director and Assistant Teaching Professor at Northeastern University David Tames; and writer and producer Madison O’Leary. Short Narratives & Animation: documentary filmmaker, writer, and development consultant Megan Sanchez Warner (LOVE AND HIP HOP), House Lights Media co-founder Sandy Moore; producer and Bunker Hill Community College Adjunct Professor Howard Phillips; and Best Dog Ever Films producer and director Liz Lerner. Short Documentaries: Independent Film and TV Producer Jill Lutz; Producer and Documentary Filmmaker Jay Spain; and W2 President of International Sales and Distribution Julie Sultan.
For his upcoming documentary film, Gabriel Polonsky had the perfect subject: a talented, innovative, renowned artist. It was also a subject he had close proximity to: the artist in question is his own father. So one would think it would all be easy, and simple to tell the story.
Until, that is, he started to learn the story. As he began making a film about his father, Arthur Polonsky, Gabriel wound up teaching himself about his father’s life and work as well as a little-known, but seminal group of mid-20th century artists known collectively as the “Boston Expressionists.”
“I’m making this film for many different reasons. Five years ago I went to a movie at the Museum of Fine Arts, about a prominent Boston painter named Hyman Bloom—also an Expressionist— who was a friend of my father’s. My father was briefly in the film, and I thought, ‘where is the full story on my father and the group of other key artists in their circles?’
“(My father) has had an interesting life. His work is breathtaking. He’s one of the best artists I’ve ever seen, and I would think so even if he wasn’t my father. Yet he never quite attained the recognition he deserved, nor has the movement. I want to expose his art and that of the other Boston Expressionists to a whole new audience.
“So I decided that when my father turned eighty five, I’d go over to his house and just start filming. It was now or never. At first I didn’t have a plan; I just knew that he’s a fascinating character. He’s brilliant, funny, and has an amazing story to tell: from son of Russian immigrant tailors in Lynn, MA, to an MFA scholarship recipient painting in Paris with friends like Ellsworth Kelly in 1948.
Amazing, also, to his son, is the environment in which his father works, and what he does with it.
“He lives in this unusual house. It’s sort of a ‘Grey Gardens’ style Victorian house that’s decaying around him, while he’s still creating this beautiful art work in it. He does these really crazy “Rube Goldberg” household repairs. He took the radiator hose from his 1962 Renault, and attached it to the two faucets in the Victorian marble bathroom sink, to mix the hot and cold water.
“I think that these DYI repairs are as interesting and beautiful as his paintings that hang in museums. But what is most unusual is to capture him painting, which is a rare gift; he has never opened his studio and artistic process to the public before.”
Thus inspired, Gabriel Polonsky began filming his father’s story—and, in the process, learning about it.
“I didn’t know much about his career. He didn’t talk about it when I was growing up, or maybe I wasn’t listening very much.
“The movie took a much different course than I ever expected, growing much larger than I ever anticipated and it is generating a lot of interest. Almost every museum and university I speak to, including the MFA and ICA, has asked to screen it once it is completed. And I am amazed and grateful for all of the help and support we’ve received from the Boston film and art communities. So, this is quite a journey for me as well.”
How did Gabriel’s vision for the film change from his original idea? “I started learning about this whole movement of Boston Expressionist painters, my father’s role in it, and realized that though their work is held in prominent collections, they are little known by the broader public.
I learned about his world of art—all these amazing people he’s known since the 1940’s. Curators, collectors, other painters, authors, former students.”
“Every inch of his house is full of art, towering stacks of news clippings, photos, books and articles about his career and the history of art in Boston since the 1940’s—it’s a virtual museum. And at 88, he is still painting and having major exhibitions.
“So I go over to shoot cinema verite footage of my father at home, drawing and painting. He starts opening up about his life before he had the family, as a young artist, and to his journey as an artist now in his late 80’s. I realized that my father, and the artists’ movement he helped initiate, was a much deeper, broader subject than I had known about.
“As I began interviewing other people, one of the first was Nick Capasso, who at the time was head curator of the DeCordova Museum. I asked him, ‘Tell me something about Arthur Polonsky.’ He said, ‘Arthur Polonsky was one of the most important Boston painters of the 20th Century… period.’ That amazed me. So, I decided to set out for the next two years with my camera to find out exactly what Nick meant.
“I ended up doing over thirty interviews. I spoke with Boston’s leading curators, collectors, authors, my father’s former students, and my whole family of artists.”
Why did it take the production of this film to allow Gabriel Polonsky to learn so much about his father? “It was a combination of things. As with many kids I wasn’t listening to a lot of what my dad said when I was younger! Also, he was very modest and self-deprecating, and for certain reasons, he just didn’t talk about that part of his life very much when I was growing up.
“Both of my parents are artists. They had studios in the house. It was creative chaos. My father made etchings in the bathtub with nitric acid. I would see them working, and I would go to their art openings, but I didn’t quite ‘get it.’ I was eight years old, and my father would take me to museums with his work hanging on the wall. These interesting artists and students would come up and tell me how much they adored him and admired his work. They had this long history with him that I wasn’t familiar with. He taught at Boston University for twenty-five years, and Brandeis before that and at the Boston Museum School for eleven years before that.
“These were parts of his life that were all connected, and were outside of the way I knew him as a father.”
In particular, the “Boston Expressionism” movement which is recognized by curators and academics is not always accepted by the artists themselves. Like many of his fellow artists from that period, my father rejects the title ‘Expressionist,’ they don’t really call themselves anything but ‘painters!’
“But it does describe a way of working and a style that many of them were doing, though not always with intentionality.
“I almost feel that now I have a PhD in the history of Boston Expressionism. Not by reading about it in books, but by talking to the surviving people who lived it and wrote about it. And my father was one of the prominent Boston Expressionists. He played a major role in creating this artistic movement since the late 1940’s, and he’s still part of it.”
And What is Expressionism?
“The simple answer is that (Expressionism) is a type of art or painting that’s done from imagination, and frequently involves the figure. It’s different from Abstract Expressionism, which was popular at the time, and came out of New York with Jackson Pollock, (Willem) de Kooning and (Mark) Rothko among others. Those artists’ paintings were nearly devoid of the figure. Expressionism often has dreamlike, imaginary, distorted figures. The brushwork is usually coarse, agitated and dramatic, and the colors are vibrant. There’s sort of a mystical, emotional theme to it. These are words often used to describe my father’s work.”
And how did one particular form of Expressionism emerge in Boston?
“Boston Expressionism really started in the 1940’s at the Boston School of the Museum of Fine Arts. Before and after the war, some of the prominent European Expressionists came over and began the program. The majority of Boston Expressionists were first generation Americans from Eastern Europe. Many of them were Jewish; my father’s parents emigrated from Russia. (Arthur Polonsky grew up in Lynn, Massachusetts.) They studied Expressionism, and created this historic movement in American art. But, it was unheralded. It never reached its due and hasn’t been promoted to the extent that Abstract Expressionism has.”
But according to Gabriel Polonsky, it was in Boston, not New York, where Expressionism first took root in America. “They were called ‘The Bad Boys of Boston.’ They were breaking all the rules. Some of my father’s work looks like a beautiful nightmare. At the time, it was disturbing and controversial. They were changing art.”
From what Gabriel has learned, it is almost a historical accident that this movement began in Boston; it just happened to be the place where so many of these European immigrant artists came from. But there were some aspects of Arthur’s Lynn, MA boyhood that may well have influenced his later artistic visions. “There were big marshes near the Saugus Iron Works. They used to burn off the dead grass to prevent natural brush fires. He saw that when he was a kid, and he liked the color of the fire. So, that may be the reason that he incorporates fire into many works. Of course, the reviewers see that, and say, ‘Polonsky has this raging inferno from within, that comes from deep inside his psyche.’ This makes him laugh.
“My father and I went back to Lynn, with a camera crew. We drove around while he told stories about growing up there. We went to the Lynn Public Library where he spent much of his childhood. On the wall is an enormous, painted mural that depicts the creation of man, with angels and cavemen. When my father saw that mural as a little kid he said to himself, ‘I want to be a painter. I want to be able to do that.’ So, I had to film him returning to the library to see the mural once again, while talking about how it inspired a lifetime of painting”
Fortunately for Gabriel, one of the important periods in his father’s life was already on film—film that he was able to use in his documentary.
“When he graduated (from the Boston Museum School), my father received a two-year fellowship to the booming art scene of post-WW II Paris. That was a life-changing experience for him. It was an amazing time. He lived up the street from Picasso and drew every day with friends like the aforementioned Ellsworth Kelly. Arthur was featured in LIFE Magazine, had acclaimed international solo shows, and was in group shows with Pollock and Picasso. From what I’ve learned about it, my father lived a real-life Woody Allen MIDNIGHT IN PARIS experience.
“He had a girlfriend in Paris and did many beautiful drawings and paintings of her. I found out that she’s alive and well, and living in Massachusetts. So, I ended up doing a great interview with her and struck gold! She had this amazing B&W 8mm movie footage of them in Paris together. All these artists in the street, it’s like a Fellini movie. My father is young and handsome, with his pipe. She’s in the footage, too. It’s an incredible document of an era to include in the film.”
Also in the film will be scenes describing the impact that Arthur Polonsky’s work—and that of other Boston Expressionists—has today, and the following that their work has attracted. Among such followers is Katherine French, Head of the Danforth Museum, Arthur’s friend and lifelong collector, Carol Klein, and Boston’s Herbert Grey, known as one of the biggest private collectors and an admirer of Boston Expressionism. Such people are in the vanguard of a revival of interest in Boston Expressionism, which Gabriel’s film, inevitably, will spotlight. There is little doubt that the completion of this film will raise the profile and value of these works. According to Gabriel, this film is the first feature length film which will cover Boston Expressionism.
As for Gabriel’s own career, the Boston native has his own extensive portfolio of work as a filmmaker, artist, animator, and educator. In 1992, he founded Gabriel Polonsky Studio. (Gabriel’s awards include a national Emmy nomination.) The documentary film about his father is the Studio’s latest production.
The film’s working title is RELEASE FROM REASON. It comes from a statement Arthur Polonsky gave in an interview: “In a world where reason is the goal, I think that art is the release from reason.”
The film has completed all primary filming and production work, has over 150 hours of interviews and scenes recorded and is now raising funds to begin post-production. Gabriel Polonsky can be contacted directly at info@releasefromreason. com, or by calling 617 515-5642. Updates are available at http://releasefromreason.com/news/.
Hartley Pleshaw has been a writer for IMAGINE since 2006. He has worked in Boston-area media and theater for over three decades. His email address is: [email protected].