The Seattle independent film scene may not exactly be the buzz of the festival circuit but it is making itself heard. This week, it echoed through the DVD new release rack, thanks to the simultaneous release of Lynn Shelton’s two recent films. But on a more personal (and much more self-serving) note, another Seattle fixture made his DVD debut this week: ME. Yes, I made my long-awaited (at least by me) DVD commentary debut on the Milestone’s superb two-disc edition of Kent Mackenzie’s The Exiles, a forgotten landmark of genuine American independent filmmaking at its most personal and authentic. All kidding aside, this is a remarkable film and a tremendous DVD release, and only my modest participation in the project prevented me from putting it on my upcoming “Best of 2009 DVD” list. More later. First, let me celebrate the home video invasion of Seattle director (and my friend) Lynn Shelton.
Before she hit Sundance with Humpday, Shelton explored the complications of male relationships, specifically the “break-up” of old friends and the desperation with which one man (played by Harvey Danger’s Sean Nelson) attempts to reconnect, with My Efforless Brilliance (IFC), a slyly funny and wryly discomforting portrait. His motivations are less out of affection than ego—dude, he was dumped!—and Shelton is there to watch this relationship spins its wheels on Nelson’s glib, needy presence in all its understated humor. There’s not much narrative shape to the film but a tremendously authentic texture to the relationship. Nelson is a natural in the role, subtly establishing the sense of ego and vulnerability and self-aggrandizement in the character with brave intimacy, and Basil Harris is just as good as the old friend he attempts to woo back, resigned to Nelson’s pushy sense of entitlement and slowly falling into old rhythms of offhanded joking. Features commentary by Shelton with the stars and key members of her production team, a featurettes and deleted scenes.
My congratulation to local Seattle filmmaker (and Facebook buddy) Lynn Shelton. Her new film, “Humpday,” has been chosen to play in the exclusive Directors’ Fortnight section of the 2009 Cannes Film Festival.
The third feature from director Lynn Shelton made its world premiere at the 2009 Sundance Film Festival, where it played in the Dramatic Competition and was the first film sale of the fest. Shelton also won the “Someone to Watch Award” at the 2009 Spirit Awards for her second feature, “My Effortless Brilliance.”
Seattle audiences will get a chance to see “Humpday” on Friday, June 5 at the 2009 Seattle International Film Festival, where it will play as a Centerpiece Gala for the Northwest Connections sidebar.
My report is running on the Seattle PostGlobe website here.
I will also begin reviewing films for the Seattle PostGlobe next week.
Seattle filmmaker Lynn Shelton won the “Someone to Watch” award at the 2009 Spirit Awards, for her 2008 film My Effortless Brilliance.
My Effortless Brilliance [focuses on] male relationships, specifically the “break-up” of old friends and the desperation with which one man (played by Sean Nelson – singer, songwriter, former frontman for Harvey Danger and, in the interest of disclosure, my friend and colleague), a novelist struggling to repeat the success of his first book, attempts to reconnect. His motivations are less out of affection than ego – dude, he was dumped! The film’s reception was mixed, which may have as much to do with the seeming lack of narrative drive and plotting and its undeniable similarities to Old Joy as with the discomforting portrait of male relationships. Yet I found the texture of the relationships and the sly humor winning and was impressed with the performances, especially Nelson, who’s a natural in the role, subtly establishing the sense of ego and vulnerability and self-aggrandizement in the character with brave intimacy. Shelton’s observations of male relationships and the rhythms of old friends falling into old patterns are spot on, helped immensely, surely, by the collaboration of the cast, who played the scenes without a script, only an outline.
I interviewed her about the film in 2008 and revisit that interview for Parallax View here.
Three Seattle films will debut at Sundance this year. Lynn Shelton’s Humpday is in the prestigious Dramatic Competition (the most competitive and sought-after section) and David Russo’s feature debut The Immaculate Conception of Little Dizzle in the Spectrum Competition. The third is a quasi-Seattle production: Bobcat Goldthwait’s World’s Greatest Dad was shot in Seattle with a mix of local and out-of-town crew, and debuts out of competition.
I haven’t seen the films (did I mention they make their respective world premieres at Sundance?) and I won’t be at the festival, but I’ll do my best to follow their progress both here and at Parallax View, where I will run interviews with both Shelton and Russo.
Meanwhile, I profile the films and Seattle’s independent film scene in general in a feature for the Seattle P-I this week:
This isn’t Seattle’s first invitation to the Sundance, which runs this year through Jan. 25. In 2005, “Police Beat,” inspired by Charles Mudede’s column in The Stranger and directed by Robinson Devor, premiered in the Dramatic Competition, and “Iraq in Fragments” won three awards in the 2006 Documentary Competition before it was nominated for an Oscar.
But this year Seattle comes to Park City in force, and this arrival brings a message along with it: The local filmmaking community is both growing artistically and developing a base of resources, from technicians to post-production facilities. At least for this very specific kind of filmmaking model.
Officially, “Humpday,” which makes its premiere Friday, was made for “under $1 million.” Unofficially, it is surely the lowest-budget production in the Dramatic Competition and one of the very few without the draw of Hollywood actors. Mark Duplass (of “The Puffy Chair” and “Hannah Takes the Stairs”) and Joshua Leonard (co-star of the blockbuster “The Blair Witch Project”) have some indie cachet, to be sure, but are hardly name draws in an industry that banks on star power and prestige for selling films. Apart from Duplass and Leonard, the cast and crew are drawn from Seattle.
When thinking about My Effortless Brilliance, I think back to when I saw Doris Dörrie’s Men, and what I liked so much about it is that there are so many films about women made by men and so few films about men made by women. And you get a distinctly different perspective. There’s no ego involved, for one thing.
There are actually a couple of moments in the movie that the guys really begged me to cut out. I actually tried to see if I could and I couldn’t really make it work, but I also really felt that they were honest.
The actors were involved in the screenwriting process as well, correct? Their names are listed as screenwriters in the credits.
They are. The reason is that the actual arc of the movie… The whole movie started because I wanted to find a new way of making films. Before I made We Go Way Back, I’d been making a lot of little experimental films and documentaries and doing everything on my own, basically. I’d gone to grad school in photography and media. My own movies were all DIY. I just did everything, and it was half because I needed to be in control of everything but also because I didn’t know how to collaborate with other people. I didn’t know about that process because my MFA program was basically a solo artist / solo photographer paradigm.
I think I learned about cinematic storytelling as an editor. I edited two feature films for other people and a number of shorts and I had this whole long background in the theater as an actor. So this was sort of a long time coming and when Gregg Lachow invited to make We Go Way Back for The Film Company, I walked onto the set, I didn’t know any of the crew and it was my first time on a film set, so it was my film school, too. And I completely fell in love with working with other people, with creative collaborators, and that was such an incredible group of people. I’ve worked with [cinematographer] Ben Kasulke ever since on music videos and documentaries and the web series we did last year. It totally changed the way I make art. Now it’s all relationship based. I really like inviting other people into the process and seeing where they can take that part of the project, and we always end up with something that is greater than the sum of its parts. It’s totally addictive.
My coverage of the 2008 Seattle International Film Festival begins on GreenCine with a review of the opening night film, Battle in Seattle (and the film’s local reception) and Lynn Shelton’s My Effortless Brilliance:
Whatever you think of the film, it may be the most apropos film in the history of SIFF to open the festival: never has an opening night film been so inextricably tied to the city. You might think that the hometown audience who lived through (and, in many cases, participated in) the WTO protests and the disastrous police response would be the film’s toughest audience for a film about their experience directed by an Irish actor who wasn’t even there. Not just because of our own immediate experiences but because of the use of fictional stories to structure the film (the fictional Seattle Mayor Jim Tobin, played by Ray Liotta, stands in for the real Paul Schell) and Vancouver, BC doubling for Seattle in principle production (there were a few days of Seattle shooting to get key landmarks, but sharp eyes will detect Canadian road signage throughout the film).
Some of the stories are frankly unconvincing (Connie Nielsen gives perhaps the least dimensional performance of her career as a superficial TV reporter transformed by the experience) and others slip into all-too-familiar ruts (the rocky romance between Martin Henderson’s passionate protest organizer and the angry guerilla activist played by Michelle Rodriguez), and the literal gut-punch of the experience of bystander Charlize Theron and the turmoil of cop Woody Harrelson is a messy way to get an emotional reaction from the audience (it works, by the way). But the film pushed all the right buttons in this very liberal crowd, who responded to key scenes and speeches and (rather repetitive) defining lines with cheers and applause.