Category Archives: Movies

Southern Gothic and the Florida Man

By Vincent Dale

The Encyclopedia Britannica defines Southern Gothic as “a style of writing practiced by many writers of the American South whose stories set in that region are characterized by grotesque, macabre, or fantastic incidents.” Cultural critics have since furnished additional shades of detail, including: “deeply flawed, disturbing or eccentric characters, the religious and supernatural, perversion, drug addiction, sacrilege, decayed or derelict settings and other sinister events relating to or stemming from poverty, alienation, crime or violence.” While Florida as a whole isn’t widely considered a part of the South, the state has inherited enough aspects of Southern Culture to allow for the adaptation of the Southern Gothic model. The “grotesque, macabre or fantastic” is almost shorthand for describing the eccentric collection of characters one encounters in Sean Dunne’s groundbreaking, 50­minute 
documentary, Florida Man.

Continue reading Southern Gothic and the Florida Man

Writer/Director Angelo Pizzo on His Latest Film, “My All American,” and Why Sports and Story Go Hand-In-Hand.

Continuing the tradition of bringing top-notch talent and guests to its students, the Ringling College of Art and Design Studio Lab, a collaboration between the college and Semkhor’s David Shapiro, welcomed Hollywood screenwriter Angelo Pizzo, author of seminal sports films Rudy and Hoosiers, to campus to teach a masterclass with producer Paul Schiff and talk and screen their latest film, My All American. Based on the inspiring true story of 1960s University of Texas football player Freddie Steinmark, who rose from gridiron underdog to school icon, and starring Finn Wittrock as Steinmark and Aaron Eckhart as the coach who gave him a chance, the film marks Pizzo’s first as director and the starting point for two Ringling alums, Harrison Stagner and Nick Lennon, who served as interns on the film.

“It’s not the sport itself that you’re watching – it’s the canvas,” said Pizzo, asked about his apparent affinity for the sports film genre. “It’s about the characters, their struggles, their journeys and their success or failure.” Sports provide the backdrop, with definite winners and losers and set rules. “That’s not always true in life,” Pizzo continued. “It provides you a great canvas to use sports as metaphor.” In addition, there’s a special place that sports hold in American society, said Pizzo, that allows these stories to resonate. “There’s a familiarity and a connection with sport and American culture,” he said. Everyone has a connection to some sport, whether it be real or imagined, that transcends the scoreboard. “It’s a form of community and how people come together,” Pizzo said. “And all of us have a need for community.”

As for Steinmark’s story in particular, Pizzo said there were two things that immediately struck him upon reading the source material, Jim Dent’s Courage Beyond the Game, that convinced him it was a story worth telling. First off, Pizzo says he choked up while reading the story, (“And I never choke up reading books.”) and he saw in there, instantly, perhaps the greatest final ten minutes he’d ever written for film, a climax he calls “phenomenal.”

“There was an opportunity to do something special,” Pizzo said. “This has the most emotionality of any movie I’ve ever done.”

Though many have tried, Pizzo was the first to get permission from the family to tell Steinmark’s story on film, a responsibility he took seriously. “You’re lucky to get 50%,” he said of the amount of truth typically found in a Hollywood ‘true’ story, admitting that his own Rudy probably clocked in around 70%, having excised the title character’s brief stint in the Navy and created the groundskeeper character as a composite. “With this film, I’d say 90% is true,” Pizzo said. “All the important aspects are true.”

As for Ringling’s Stagner and Lennon, producer Schiff had only glowing reviews, though he admits there was initial reticence from the department heads who would be taking on the unproven young creatives in a high-pressure environment. “A couple weeks into the show, both department heads came to me individually and said, ‘Thank you so much for these guys. They’re fantastic,’” said Schiff, who described a mature approach from the pair, willing to demonstrate the knowledge they gained at Ringling while knowing when to step back and learn from others. “They struck that balance beautifully.”

Though screened yesterday for Ringling students and the curious community, My All American doesn’t hit theaters officially till November.

“It’s a story that has always inspired the University of Texas football team,” said Pizzo, “and you’ll see why when you see this movie.”

JB Whirtley and the Long Road to ‘Madness’

“I have been a prisoner for about three years,” said filmmaker JB Whirtley, the writer-director speaking from the sound booth where he’s made his home for the past couple weeks, dragging an inflatable mattress into the space and setting up camp as he puts the finishing touches on his long-awaited short film Bullet of Madness, to be screened for the first time August 19 at the ManaSota Films monthly meet-up in Lakewood Ranch Cinemas, where local filmmakers get a spot on the big screen to show their work. Now the nerves set in. “It was hard to make the movie, but it’s probably going to be even harder to watch it,” said Whirtley, tired but in good cheer, “especially with a bunch of strangers.”

A dark comedy starring an unhinged plastic surgeon (played by ManaSota Films founder Mark Troy) tearing through the local criminal element in a mad quest for revenge, Bullet of Madness began in 2013 with an idea, an elaborate trailer and a trip to Canada to meet with Magnet Releasing, a studio haven for the offbeat and bizarre, especially within the world of genre filmmaking. Impressed, Magnet sent Whirtley home to make his short film and meet again after with possible talk of turning Bullet into a feature-length film. Now, three years later, Whirtley’s film clocks in at a cool twenty minutes of slick and demented action, but not without a few bumps in the road, such as switching crews and uprooting the production from Orlando to Bradenton.

“Me and the crew just did not jive,” said Whirtley, regarding the Orlando crew with a stylistic update of the classic ‘creative differences.’ “They were trying to make a different film than I was.” Shifting his focus to Bradenton, Whirtley enlisted the help of local filmmakers such as Trishul Thejasvi, founder of Orensis Films, producer and cinematographer for Bullet, and now a regular collaborator, and John O’Keefe, an actor who stepped into a co-producer role to keep the film moving as crews were assembled and sets rebuilt. On top of that, Whirtley met the demands of his regular job as assistant director for commercial work. “Any time I had a gig, I had to stop to make money,” said Whirtley. “And then when I had money, I had to reopen the production again and start shooting.” Putting the film together in bits and pieces, time ran long. “We shot whatever we could over the course of two years,” said Whirtley.

Film in hand, Whirtley remains in contact with Magnet, where he says relations are “cordial, but I still have other options on the table.” That being said, he doesn’t want to overstate his position. Magnet knows he has something, he says, but they haven’t seen the finished product and anything could happen. “It’s business,” he said. “Nothing’s carved in stone until there’s a contract.”

But even if Magnet passes and Hollywood doesn’t come calling just yet, Whirtley hopes to see the film have an impact on the local scene, inspiring other artists to try more than the usual dramas, more often than not touching on drug addiction and other social ills, which he typically finds unsatisfying and overreaching in their attempts at depth. “Especially for first-time filmmakers,” he said. “I want to push genre filmmaking.” Genre films, the biggest being horror but including science fiction and fantasy, are usually relegated to schlock, but Whirtley sees opportunity in a cinematic tradition more focused on audience enjoyment and engagement than any pretense of high art, an opportunity to invigorate the local film community. “Everyone has their own way of making film and this is just my opinion,” said Whirtley, “but there needs to be more genre films treated with more respect. Filmmakers should try to please themselves and please audiences at the same time.”

Bullet of Madness screens tonight at Lakewood Ranch Cinemas at the ManaSota Films meet-up, which begins at 8:15pm. Also screening will be At a Glance, a short film from Rory Smith about coffee shop conflict; Stephanie Davis and Cindy Krapfel’s Speed Dating; Heading Nowhere, a lengthier and seemingly absurdist short film from Keenan O’Reilly and more. Admission is free, but guests are encouraged to give back to the theater that hosts the community free of charge for the event by treating themselves at the concession stand.

Director Khoa Le Talks Disney, Vision and ‘Walt Before Mickey’

Walking the red carpet on Friday for the world premiere of Walt Before Mickey at the inaugural Skyway Film Festival, director Khoa Le seemed at ease, despite his feature-length debut only moments from opening in the Land of Disney itself. Written by Arthur Bernstein and Armando Gutierrez (who also stars) and from the book of the same name by Timothy Susanin, Walt Before Mickey chronicles the early struggles of the visionary artist and his initial forays into animation fraught with pitfalls and potholes. And like the subject, the film, starring Thomas Ian Nicholas (American Pie) as Disney and Jon Heder (Napoleon Dynamite) as older brother, Roy, had its own rocky start, but nothing Le says his team couldn’t overcome. Continue reading Director Khoa Le Talks Disney, Vision and ‘Walt Before Mickey’

Skyway Film Festival Unveils Programming: Horror in the Main Slate, Keeping it Local and the Business of Showbiz

With screenings set to commence in little under two weeks time, the Skyway Film Festival this morning unveiled programming for its inaugural run, slating over 50 films, including narratives, documentaries, features and shorts for the festival’s three-day run, as well as multiple workshops led by industry professionals in the Skyway Labs series. Among the festival’s guests, director Dan Myrick will be in attendance with a special retrospective screening of his horror film-turned-phenomenon, The Blair Witch Project, followed by a Q&A session. Continue reading Skyway Film Festival Unveils Programming: Horror in the Main Slate, Keeping it Local and the Business of Showbiz

Skyway Film Festival Gears Up With Opening And Closing Night Films

The Skyway Film Festival is kicking off its programming with some Florida flair by bringing the world premiere of Walt Before Mickey to the screen for an opening night celebration sponsored by Feld Entertainment. Shot in Florida, the film investigates the life of Walt Disney before he became a household name and animation powerhouse, Walt Before Mickey takes a closer look at his childhood growing up in Missouri and the path he took to discovering what would become his most recognizable creation. Based upon the book of the same name by Timothy S. Susanin, the film marks the feature-length debut for director Khoa Lee and stars Thomas Ian Nicholas as Disney, and Jon Heder. “There isn’t a better film to kick off our inaugural film festival,” said Joe Restaino, artistic director for Skyway, describing Disney as “one of the most impactful entertainment pioneers in the history of film.” Continue reading Skyway Film Festival Gears Up With Opening And Closing Night Films

Haley Discusses Blythe Danner, Senior Sex and Why ‘I’ll See You In My Dreams’ Nearly Shot in SWFL

When director Brett Haley first came to the Sarasota Film Festival five years ago, he was immediately concerned. His directorial debut, The New Year, had sold just 10 tickets, so he started hustling on the streets, begging folks to see a micro-budget shot with no recognizable actors in Pensacola, Florida. He would leave after three days—he had a paying job shooting a Levi’s commercial that took priority—so he wasn’t in town to year that his work more than paid off. The New Year won the Audience Award for Best Narrative Feature. “That was crazy,” he recalls. “And then that movie got a lot more traction because it won here.”

Haley was back in Sarasota this week, this time with better billing from the start. I’ll See You In My Dreams, the director’s second feature, served as the Closing Night Film for this year’s Sarasota Film Festival, bolstered by a marquis performance from Blythe Danner and solid supporting work from an all-star cast. Continue reading Haley Discusses Blythe Danner, Senior Sex and Why ‘I’ll See You In My Dreams’ Nearly Shot in SWFL