Power Struggles: Sundance Documentarians Tell Us What It Means to Collaborate With Their Subjects


Relationships between documentary filmmakers and their subjects must balance access and editorial control, which leaves them walking a line between establishing trust and respecting boundaries. It’s a tricky business.

IndieWire recently asked nonfiction filmmakers behind this year’s Sundance documentary features about the understandings they established with their subjects before they started shooting, and if they considered their stars to be collaborators.

READ MORE: Fox Searchlight Buys Documentary ‘Step’ For More Than $4 Million — Sundance 2017



Courtesy of Sundance

Amanda Lipitz “Step” The process started with discussing the idea with the families, especially the mothers of the young women on the step team. We set up a meeting after school one day and all the parents/guardians were invited to attend. I explained my vision of the story, with the emphasis on wanting to tell a positive story about Baltimore, these young women, and what they were trying to accomplish. I absolutely consider them collaborators. It was their story to tell, and they were laying the roadmap of where we would go. The girls’ artistic influence on the film is everywhere! I was inspired by the music they listened to (some of which made it into the movie) and their style.

Shaul Schwarz and Christina Clusiau, “Trophy” Developing trust and friendship with our characters led to greater collaboration. The more respect we had for each other, the more we became involved in their lives. John and Philip would call when something significant was happening for them, and invite us to film. In return, we did the same. We would reach out when we felt there was significant news about conservation, breeding, and hunting and to find a way to incorpora​te those global events into their story arcs and the subject in general. With that said, there comes a point — for us, it was during the edit ​— where you want to make sure you are telling the story in an objective way.

Pascale Lamche,”Winnie” We had to slowly build trust with Winnie Madikizela Mandela [wife of Nelson], and began by building a relationship with her daughter Zindzi, who also becomes a major storyteller in the film. The understanding at the beginning of the film was that I was interested in focusing on the untold story of Winnie’s activities in the military wing of the African National Congress, and on her role as a Commander of a guerrilla army. I do consider her a collaborator, insofar as she was willing to open up to me and speak truthfully about the many distressing and violent aspects of her past, as well as her political triumphs and struggles. But I did not screen work in progress, or anything of that nature.

Winnie Movie


Yance Ford, “Strong Island” I told each person involved in Strong Island that I wanted them to tell me everything they remembered [about the murder for Ford’s brother], and that I wasn’t administering a test. That it was ok to say, “I don’t remember.” Those conversations, which took place over 10 years, and which required great patience from everyone, resulted in each person taking incredible risks in their own way. Their honesty is what ultimately makes “Strong Island” the film that it is. When it came to interviews with me, I felt I had to abide by the same terms, and match that honesty.

Kyoko Miyake, “Tokyo Idols” We needed to see the idols off stage, without makeup, with their family and friends. I consider them collaborators. The trust from my subject is the foundation of my filmmaking, and I’m constantly asking them to update/educate me on what’s happening.

Jonathan Olshefski, “Quest” The film developed very incrementally over the course of more than 10 years. It started off as a one-day photo shoot of the Rainey family’s home studio. After spending many days on this project and sleeping over at the house, I felt that the medium of still photography might not be the best to tell this story. I wanted to include the voices of the Rainey family, the music from the studio, the way light moved during early morning hours working a paper route. They are absolutely collaborators. Without their invitation into these moments, we would not have the film that we have. Before it is a film, it is a relationship. Both the Raineys and I felt that their story was important, and could be used to do good things in the world. This shared vision is what drove us.

READ MORE: ‘Quest’: How a Photo Essay Turned into a Documentary About 8 Years in the Life of a North Philly Family

Jiuliang Wang, Plastic China” Before I started shooting, I was trying to discover how foreign plastic waste has been dealt with in China, and to reveal the unknown secrets of that industry. After about half a year of shooting, having gotten what we wanted about the industry, I had new ideas about what this movie will convey. If our movie initially was trying to answer ‘what plastic recycling industry is like’, then later on we were trying to answer ‘why the industry is like this.’ Therefore, the content has changed to the stories told by people in this industry.

"Workers Cup"

“Workers Cup”

Courtesy of Sundance Institute

Adam Sobel, “The Workers Cup” We received access to make this film mere hours before the “workers welfare” soccer tournament at the center of [the film] kicked off, so we didn’t have time to ease into the story. We spent a lot of time gaining the trust of the subjects and building a relationship by talking about our families at home, our reasons for coming to Qatar, and, of course, soccer. They are absolutely collaborators. From the beginning, my goal was to make a film that the characters would be proud of. I’d seen a considerable amount of media around this subject that make migrant workers appear only as victims, and I knew that for our film to have real meaning, the characters themselves had to be empowered. So I tried to approach the story on their terms.

Rory Kennedy, “TAKE EVERY WAVE: The Life Of Laird Hamilton” When Laird and I initially discussed the film, I made it clear that I was not interested in making a typical surf film. I wanted to make a film that helped us understand why Laird surfed avalanches. What drew me to Laird – and indicated to me from the get-go that there may be a different kind of surf movie here – was how to unlock the secret of what motivated him throughout his life. Laird understood this and he was game. He was absolutely a collaborator. It’s hard to make an honest film that centers around the life of one person, without that person acting as a collaborator throughout the process.

Austin Peters, “Give Me Future” From the beginning, we wanted to make a different kind of a concert documentary. We wanted the concert to be as much about the people in the audience as it is about the people on stage, and from that decision everything else followed suit. Absolutely, the subjects are collaborators. Across the board, it was about earning trust with everyone who is in the film, from the guys in the band to the Cuban subjects, and that was something that took time with all of them and got better as we continued making the film.

READ MORE: Sundance 2017: Here Are the Cameras Used to Shoot This Year’s Acclaimed Films

Joe Piscatella, “Joshua: Teenager vs. Superpower” The subjects of “Joshua” were not collaborators. They agreed to let me make a documentary film about them and their exploits to keep the Communist Party of China at bay in Hong Kong. They were not fully aware of the entire story we were telling, and which events we were using in the film. While the subjects of “Joshua” were usually gracious in continuing to give us access, as the story evolved to arrests, trials, potential jail time, etc., I’m sure that there were times they when wished that the scope of the film would stop shifting. Where Joshua Wong (the star of the film) and his friends were helpful was in helping us locate footage from their own archives of events where we did not have our own cameras on the ground. As we discovered (to our delight), teenagers always have their cell phones and if something happened, someone probably filmed it.

Dina Sundance 2017 autism documentary


Dan Sickles, “Dina” Dina has always been part of my extended family. She’s known me since I was in the womb, and we’ve always had a deeply trusting dynamic. There wasn’t ever a point during production where we suggested that we knew what the film was about, as our process lends itself to discovering the film in the editing room. Not knowing, and not projecting, allowed us to work in a way that kept us free from expectation and encouraged her to live in front of our camera as opposed to perform. Our only ask of her was that we share space, and our primary promise to her was that we would listen and treat her with dignity. Dina is a collaborator on our film. She’s our star, and we’re her crew. In the film, Dina is showing us what she wants to reveal about herself, and she’s upending assumptions about femininity, aging, and neurodiversity by virtue of living on screen. She personally screened several cuts and gave us feedback. She owns this film more than anyone, and together we’re using it to accomplish new dreams she has for herself.

READ MORE: The 2017 IndieWire Sundance Bible: Every Review, Interview and News Item Posted During the Festival

Ramona S. Diaz, “Motherland” I filmed in a maternity hospital wherein I chose to focus on the mothers as opposed to the staff. This was tricky because, basically, I chose which participants to follow (assuming they’d agree) as we were shooting. Unlike previous films I’d done, where I had the luxury of getting to know the participants before shooting, this was like speed dating. Mothers arrived at the hospital in the midst of labor and I’d sort of tell them what we were doing, but made a deal to not use whatever we shot if, after they had given birth and had time to think clearly, they were not comfortable with it. Some were okay with it, some were not.

The ones who agreed to participate fully, I got to know as we were filming them. It was an amazing way to work. They were a revelation as their lives unfolded in front of the camera. I now realize how boring it is to know in advance what you’re going to get — might as well be doing fiction. It’s a nerve-wracking way to work, for sure. But it so satisfying. I suppose they are collaborators, but only to a degree.

The fact is that it is an unequal relationship. Whoever has the camera is the more powerful one in the relationship, no matter who it is one is filming — be it a former first lady, rock stars, teachers, dissidents, or impoverished pregnant women. They are collaborators in that they are sharing their lives with you, giving you a glimpse into their interior landscape. But like actors who are wrapped after the shoot, so are they after the filming is done. They’re not with us in the editing room. We’re not asking their opinions on cuts. I think it makes me feel better to think of them as collaborators because, unlike actors whose presence is based on a clear, transactional relationship, participants in a documentary don’t really have that. We take their stories, but what do they get? Perhaps sharing their cautionary tales help others in avoiding the same mistakes, in righting a wrong, in shedding light on a problem? Maybe. But is that enough? I’m not sure. It’s something I struggle with every time I make a film.

Susan Froemke & John Hoffman, “Rancher, Farmer, Fisherman” The question is a leading one. Of course, they are collaborators, through the simple act of agreeing to be filmed. But part of that implicit contract is their understanding that we will have final editorial control. So, really, the question is what does it mean to collaborate?

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‘Ingrid Goes West’ Review: Aubrey Plaza Is An Instagram Stalker In This Middle Social Media Satire — Sundance 2017


“No one is as happy as they seem on Instagram, as depressed as they seem on Twitter, or as insufferable as they seem on Facebook.”

If you’re reading this review, odds are you’ve probably stumbled across that cute axiom (or one of its interchangeable variations) at some point or another in the years since the world submitted itself to the emotional slaughterhouse that is social media. And if you’ve ever had an Instagram, Twitter, or Facebook account of your own, odds are you know just how true that truism tends to be. And yet, for some reason, it still needs to be said. Everybody curates their own image on the internet, but we’re all so good at it that nobody remembers.

As Vonnegut once wrote: “We are what we pretend to be, so we must be careful what we pretend to be.” That guy died three years before Instagram was even invented, but he had more to say about it than Matt Spicer  does in his banal but enjoyably brash debut feature, “Ingrid Goes West.”

Spicer’s film tells the bleakly satirical story of an Aubrey Plaza-like girl named Ingrid Thorburn (Aubrey Plaza), a mentally ill twentysomething whose psychoses are spelled out through social media like ink through a pen. Unwell from the start, Ingrid is introduced as she obsessively “likes” her way through another girl’s wedding photos. Her indiscriminate approval isn’t a good look, but the really unsettling thing about it is that the wedding Ingrid is seeing through her feed is still in progress, and she’s sitting in the parking lot, uninvited and unhinged.

READ MORE: The 2017 IndieWire Sundance Bible: Every Review, Interview, And News Story From The Fest

A mace incident and a restraining order later, and Ingrid is in need of a new fixation. That’s when she happens upon a story about social media influencer Taylor Sloane (Elizabeth Olsen) while leafing through the pages of an “Elle.” Beautiful and blonde, Taylor is the kind of L.A. neo-hippie who takes photos of her food and unironically uses “#blessed” to describe her fortune at finding a cute new dress. She lives in a glass house with her artist husband (“22 Jump Street” breakout Wyatt Russell), dreams of buying a place in Joshua Tree, and seems altogether insufferable.

Ingrid naturally wants to wear her skin like Buffalo Bill. So when her mom dies, leaving Ingrid with $60,000 in cash, our heroine knows exactly how to spend it: By driving out to Los Angeles, blowing her money on an apartment she rents from a sweet-hearted Batman fanatic named Dan Pinto (O’Shea Jackson Jr., stealing every scene he’s in), and becoming Taylor’s best friend. Chaos ensues.

To Spicer’s credit, his film avoids the temptation to become “Single White Female” with a cell phone. That’s been done, and the first-time director (working from a script he co-wrote with David Branson Smith) has more ambitious, more skewered, more unwieldy ideas on his mind. Inviting too many comparisons for such a singularly modern satire should, “Ingrid Goes West” feels more like a millennial riff on “The King of Comedy” than it does anything else, the film is at its best when mocking us for how we’ve taken incredible technology and used it to make commercials for our own lives.

The scenes between Plaza and Olsen are sharp and specific — Spicer certainly knows his way around these people — and the movie is smart enough to recognize how dull it would be to just chip away at Taylor’s perfect veneer for 90 minutes. Nothing helps sustain interest so much as Ingrid’s utter unwillingness to see through her new BFF’s flimsy facade, even if the script is derailed by all of the obstacles that it throws in her way (chief among them being Taylor’s insane, jacked, and insanely jacked brother, played by Billy Magnussen).

But this sporadically funny movie is far more successful when it’s angling for easy laughs then when it’s trying to steer them towards social commentary. Spicer’s attempts to muddy the waters and reorient our sympathies are weak at best, and often troublesome. Yes, Ingrid is a sympathetic character — we’re all a little bit like her, we’ve all looked at a social snapshot of someone’s life and wished we could tap into it, we’ve all taken the bait that other people put out there in the first place — but it’s shaky territory when you start conflating the effects of social media with genuine mental illness.

It’s not that Ingrid is naive or new to digital technology; she’s a disturbed individual whose mother’s death has triggered a series of psychoses that just happened to manifest themselves through Instagram. The movie is very confused on that point, much less sure of itself when sussing through Ingrid’s damage than when it is diagnosing Taylor’s. Shot in gorgeously anamorphic widescreen (with the saturation slider about halfway to 100), the look of the film says more about the world these girls inhabit than the script ever does.

“Ingrid Goes West” is colorful and flippant enough that it can survive a lot of its more senseless developments, but the movie never digs beneath the most obvious layers of its L.A. stereotypes. Americans have long been enthralled by the idea of projecting the perfect image (Jon Hamm starred in a phenomenal television show about this), and deranged people have always used that as fuel for their twisted fantasies. The difference now is that the products don’t complete our lives, our lives complete the products. “Ingrid Goes West” knows that from the start, but it sells itself short.

Grade: C

“Ingrid Goes West” premiered in the NEXT category at the 2017 Sundance Film Festival. Neon will release it later this year.

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ACE Eddies 2017: ‘Arrival,’ ‘La La Land,’ ‘Zootopia’ Win Editing Awards


Denis Villeneuve’s time-bending “Arrival,” Damien Chazelle’s musical love letter, “La La Land,” and Disney’s zeitgeist-grabbing “Zootopia” took editing honors in drama, comedy, and animation at the 67th ACE Eddie Awards Friday at the Beverly Hilton.

“O.J.: Made in America” (edited by Bret Granato, Maya Mumma & Ben Sozanski), meanwhile, won for best documentary. It’s considered the frontrunner for the Documentary Oscar.

TV winners included “Veep: Morning After” (edited by Steven Rasch, ACE) for Best Edited Half-Hour Series for Television, “This is Us:Pilot” (edited by David L. Bertman, ACE) for Best Edited One-Hour Series for Commercial television, “Game of Thrones: Battle of the Bastards”(edited by Tim Porter, ACE) for Best Edited One-Hour Series for Non-Commercial Television, “All The Way” (edited by Carol Littleton, ACE) for Best Edited Miniseries or Motion Picture for Television, and “Anthony Bourdain – Parts Unknown: Seneghal” (edited by Mustafa Bhagat) for Best Edited Non-Scripted Series and “Everything is Copy – Nora Ephron: Scripted & Unscripted” (edited by Bob Eisenhardt, ACE) In the Best Edited Documentary (Television) category.

“La La Land”

Summit Entertainment

In terms of Oscar, this now heats up the editing race between “La La Land’s” Tom Cross (previous winner for Chazelle’s “Whiplash”) and “Arrival’s” Joe Walker.

For Cross, “La La Land” continued the use of alternating rhythms — only more musical, as the romance between Ryan Gosling’s struggling jazz pianist and Emma Stone’s aspiring actress transpires throughout the four seasons. “For Damien, it’s slow during courtship and with an emphasis on round angles, like Vincente Minnelli movies,” Cross told IndieWire. “But in addition, he also wanted to editorially express the fever pitch of being in love.”

For Walker, the non-linear sci-fi thriller about mixing up time and memory was a tricky narrative challenge. “We had the option of interspersing flashbacks in any order in the most elegant and poetic way,” Walker told IndieWire.

Other highlights of the show (hosted by “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend’s Rachel Bloom) included J.J. Abrams getting the ACE Golden Eddie Filmmaker of the Year (presented by friend and collaborator Jeff Garlin); and three-time Oscar winner Thelma Schoonmaker and Janet Ashikaga (“The West Wing”) receiving Career Achievement recognition from Martin Scorsese and Thomas Schlamme (“The West Wing”).

Saturday night brings the Producers Guild Awards.




A full list of winners:



Joe Walker, ACE


La La Land

Tom Cross, ACE



Fabienne Rawley & Jeremy Milton


O.J.: Made in America

Bret Granato, Maya Mumma & Ben Sozanski


Everything Is Copy – Nora Ephron: Scripted & Unscripted

Bob Eisenhardt, ACE


Veep: “Morning After”

Steven Rasch, ACE


This is Us: “Pilot”

David L. Bertman, ACE



Game of Thrones: "Battle of the Bastards"

Tim Porter, ACE


All the Way

Carol Littleton, ACE


Anthony Bourdain: Parts Unknown: “Senegal”

Mustafa Bhagat


Tommy Wakefield  – University of North Carolina, School of the Arts

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RLJ Entertainment Buys ‘Bushwick’ — Sundance 2017


RLJ Entertainment has purchased the U.S. rights to the action-thriller “Bushwick,” which premiered on January 21 in the Sundance Film Festival’s Midnight section. The deal for the film was in the seven figures, according to a statement,

Directed by Cary Murnion and Jonathan Milott, “Bushwick” is also currently being pursued by major studio distributor for a multi-territory distribution deal. The film centers on a woman named Lucy who emerges from a Brooklyn subway to find that her neighborhood is under attack by black-clad military soldiers. An ex-Marine corpsman, Stupe, reluctantly helps her fight for survival through a civil war, as Texas attempts to secede from the United States of America. “Bushwick” stars Dave Bautista and Brittany Snow.

“With a great cast and a very timely story, we feel this is a film that will resonate with audiences all across the country,” Mark Ward, chief acquisitions officer of RLJ Entertainment said in a statement.

“Bushwick” was written by Nick Damici and Graham Reznick, from a story by Murnion and Milott. The film was produced by Bolotin, Bullet Pictures’ Adam Folk and Joseph Mensch of Mensch Productions. Executive producers included Bautista, Jonathan Meisner, Nick Spicer, and Todd Brown.

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John Hurt, ‘Alien’ and ‘The Elephant Man’ Star, Dies At 77


Sir John Hurt, one of the elder statesmen of great British actors, has passed away. He was 77.

Hurt’s first major breakout film role was as Richard Rich in “A Man for All Seasons” in 1966, and was a captivating on-screen presence in a rich array of roles. He won a Golden Globe for his supporting work in 1978’s “Midnight Express,” playing a prisoner addicted to heroin, and starred as David Lynch’s iconic “Elephant Man” (nominated for an Oscar and winning a BAFTA for his work in the 1980 black-and-white drama).

He was also beloved by genre fans for his unforgettable work in 1978’s “Alien,” which led to a cameo parodying the most famous scene of Ridley Scott’s sci-fi horror film for Mel Brooks in “Spaceballs.”

In addition, he played supporting roles in the “Harry Potter” films, “Hellboy,” “Snowpiercer” and many many more. Notably, he was cast as the War Doctor in the “Doctor Who” 50th anniversary special, “The Day of the Doctor,” as well as other “Who” projects.

Hurt received his knighthood in 2015, shortly after announcing that he had been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer — it is unknown at this time if his death was connected with that struggle. He leaves behind a filmography rich with iconic roles, brave choices and beautiful work.

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‘Lemon’ Director Janicza Bravo On The Art of Rejection and Why Her Movie’s Not Weird — Sundance 2017


Janicza Bravo doesn’t like it when people say that “Lemon,” her feature film debut, is weird. The lauded short filmmaker and playwright co-wrote “Lemon” with her husband Brett Gelman, who also stars in the dark absurdist comedy that follows a perpetual loser whose life is only gets worse as he attempts to get over a bad breakup and an embarrassing career as a commercial actor. Packed with strange jokes, bizarre humor and unfathomable twists of fate, Bravo struggled to bring “Lemon” to the big screen.

She’s earned the opportunity. A theater director and actress by training, Bravo also has nine short films under her belt (including the 2013 Sundance Film Festival selection “Gregory Go Boom”), a host of festival awards, and a bent towards the possibilities of VR in the entertainment space.

Janicza Bravo shooting "Lemon"

Janicza Bravo shooting “Lemon”

Stefania Rosini

IndieWire sat down with Bravo after the film’s Sundance debut to talk about the feature’s long road to the big screen and why you should never underestimate what she can do.

A lot of people at the festival have been describing “Lemon” as “weird,” do you bristle at the kind of reaction?

Weird is one of those words that, when someone describes my work in that way, I suddenly feel like I’m in high school and I’m not a cool person. It’s confusing to me because I had a very successful high school career. I was voted most popular, I was the prom queen, and so weird is reserved for people that were actually my friends. All of my friends were people who were weird and I think that there is something kind of negative about that and it feels dismissive and diminutive.

I think there are better words to describe our movie. Absurd, exciting, hyperbolic, different.

READ MORE: The 2017 IndieWire Sundance Bible: Every Review, Interview and News Item Posted During the Festival

The film took over five years to get made, what did you learn from that process?

We’re really good at rejection. Or at least I’ve become better at rejection. It took five years to make a movie. But I wanna say that — and I’m really feeling this, and I wanted to say it at the premiere — but there was a thaw, and it was just so insane. I couldn’t believe it was happening.

But while it was incredibly painful that it took that long, I think it’s exactly the amount of time it needed to take for the film to be what it is. For it to be the manifestation that it is. I’m a different person now. I mean, I’m the same, but there are more scars. There are a few more burns.

brett gelman lemon


What sort of feedback did you get from people while trying to make the film?

One of the reasons, I feel, it took so long to get “Lemon” made is that, tonally, it is a little bit different. To me, on paper, I’m like, “Duh, that’s exactly what it is. How could you not tell that’s what the movie was gonna be?” A lot of people would say to us when we would meet them, “I loved reading this movie. I had so much fun reading this movie. I laughed out loud, by myself, in a room.” And then I would say, “Well, why don’t you wanna make it?”

And I think that there were two things going on. I was a first-time director, I am a woman, I am of color, and unfortunately, all of those things together mean, “Are you actually capable?” So there was that.

And then there’s also the tone. It’s funny, and it’s really, really, dark. And it’s awkward and it’s stressful. I mean, it takes a certain skillset to be able to man that kind of roller coaster.

“Gregory Go Boom”

And again, because of all those things I have against me, it’s like, “How am I, with that, going to be able to do that?” And there wasn’t enough of a proof of concept. I had a short film when we first started pitching the movie, and then by the time we got to make it last summer, I had done nine short films. There was still wariness, but it finally came to be.

But you have such a rich background in both theater and short films, did that not appeal to producers?

As far as theater, it’s curious to me that it’s like, “You’ve never directed a feature,” and I’m like, “I directed ‘Dangerous Liaisons.’ It’s three and a half hours long, by the way.” But people in film are like, “Eh, I dunno.”

There’s not as much respect for theater as I would like. I just don’t know that there’s as much respect for theater as there maybe used to be. I think that people in film wouldn’t say this, but I found that people processed it as a lesser art form. And when I would talk about theater or my background in theater, which I thought was really sexy, people kind of thought, “Well, it’s a film, though.”

I think our movie is very theatrical. To me, it’s obviously made by a theater person. Its presentation feels a little bit like a play. I was like, “Let’s direct a play and like shoot it and then they’ll let us do it.”


You’ve also experimented with VR filmmaking, how has that informed your work?

I think VR’s actually very theatrical. The technology of it is the opposite of theater, in that it’s kind of cold and very far, but the work itself, how it’s presented and the space you’re in. It’s kind of like theater in the round, a little bit.

You’re inside of it. And then you have a 360-degree view. So it’s theater in the round, but you’re the performer, but you’re not the performer.

What do you think the future of VR looks like?

I’m kind of excited for VR in a few years. I’m excited for when it’s going to be photographically more beautiful, when it’s going to feel a little bit more like this world.

And to sound a little bit gross, I’ve not seen any pornography in this space. I actually have been talking about making another VR piece, and I wanna make something that is a little bit sexual. Not pornographic, but sexual, because I think that is a space in which, quality-wise, it wouldn’t matter what the quality is. Because it’s sexy and sexual, and so many other synapses are firing off, that you can let go of quality.

But I also think it’s curious to experience being inside of something when you know other people are watching you. That is titillating, and tingling at your nethers.


You recently directed an episode of “Atlanta.” What was the appeal of expanding into that medium?

I feel so lucky that Donald [Glover] and Hiro [Murai] gave me that shot. I think that, because they had also not done TV, that was a part of why they were attracted to me. They liked my short films. I feel so fortunate that they thought I could do it, because so much of this is about opportunity and unfortunately, women are not given that many opportunities.

They looked at me and thought that I was very capable, regardless of the things that are sometimes not in my favor. And I think I more than proved that I can handle it. I can handle the scale and budget and actors and extras with ease.

READ MORE: ‘Lemon’ Review: A Bizarre Comedy of Confused People From Janicza Bravo and Brett Gelman — Sundance 2017

What’s the next step for the film?

We’re getting to premiere our movie in Rotterdam, and I’m so excited for that. I’m curious, internationally. I’ve never had the experience of my work playing abroad. I am equal parts nervous and thrilled for what that’s going to be, and what the conversation will be like there.

Also, because there’s a lot of race embedded into our movie, and I’m very curious how that kind of audience processes race, because I think that they think that there isn’t a race problem there. You know? Or the race problem there is specific to a group of people that’s not in our movie and I’m just thinking [loudly sighs].

“Lemon” premiered in the NEXT section at the 2017 Sundance Film Festival. It is currently seeking distribution.

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‘The Magicians’ Bosses on How Trump Ruined Their ‘Fillory Clinton’ Joke and Inspired Season 2’s Destructive Entity


The election of Donald Trump had far-reaching repercussions not only for America and the world, but in the imaginary realm of Fillory as well.

On Syfy’s dark and irreverent series “The Magicians,” a handful of students from the magic college Brakebills have discovered that the world of Fillory, the setting of a popular series of fantasy novels, is real. Fillory is like C.S. Lewis’ Narnia on crack… if crack were made from the blood of innocent baby unicorns.

When Season 1 left off, the gang made a deal: In exchange for a blade that would kill an antagonist known as the Beast, Eliot (Hale Appleman) as the future High King of Fillory married the blade-maker’s daughter. For what was possibly the worst honeymoon ever, they confronted the Beast, who made quick work of everyone including Penny (Arjun Gupta), whose hands are sliced off with magic. Just when all seemed lost, Julia (Stella Maeve) held the Beast hostage with the blade and whisked them both away to cut a deal.

READ MORE: ‘The Magicians’’ Season 2 Trailer: Syfy Series Returns to Fillory — Watch

When “The Magicians” returns from that carnage for Season 2 on Wednesday, Jan. 25, we’ll find out how the students survived to fight another day.

“The first part of the season has our characters madly searching for  a spell strong enough to take on the Beast,” executive producer Sera Gamble told IndieWire. “They’re looking for a distillery, they’re looking for it on Earth. That occupies their time in the first few episodes. Beyond that Penny is looking for something that will help him with his hands problem, which are multiple and legion through the season.”

Another part of their challenge this year is to help Eliot rule Fillory with Quentin (Jason Ralph) as a fellow High King and Margo (Summer Bishil) and Alice (Olivia Taylor Dudley) as the High Queens.

“Margo’s nickname in Season 2 is ‘Fillory Clinton’ because she’s a High Queen of Fillory,” said Gamble. “We used it once [in an early episode] and it’s funny. The delivery is great.”

Unfortunately, the reality of Trump actually winning the election meant that calling Margo that wouldn’t have the same impact after that initial joke. “We wanted to keep using that nickname, but we thought Hillary Clinton would win the election,” said Gamble. “It didn’t end up meaning what we meant for it to mean, and we ended up having to cut the other references in post.

“Which mirrors Margo’s journey in Season 2. She’s incredibly capable,” Gamble added. “Of all the people who land in Fillory, she’s the most capable of running the country. She’s the most prepared for it. She was Welters captain. She has the right temperament for it. And everywhere she turns she gets nothing but shit, largely for being female in a pre-industrialized society like Fillory, which is of course so different from America.”

Olivia Taylor Dudley, Hale Appleman, Summer Bishil and Jason Ralph in "The Magicians"

Olivia Taylor Dudley, Hale Appleman, Summer Bishil and Jason Ralph in “The Magicians”

Jason Bell/Syfy

As it happens, Margo’s struggle is minor compared to Julia’s. In one of the darkest and most controversial scenes last season, we witnessed the Trickster god, also known as Reynard the Fox, rape Julia. The incident left her traumatized and is the reason why she left her friends and took the Beast with her in the finale.

“Julia’s got that knife, the knife that will kill Reynard, and she needs to work out something major,” said Gamble. “Trapping the Trickster is the problem. So she and The Beast are working together to figure that out. So it’s kind of all nuclear-level spells required at the start of Season 2.”

It’s no accident that Julia is now teaming up with the Beast, whom we learned was really Martin Chatwin (Charles Mesure), who is another survivor of sexual assault.

“A lot of victimizers if you really dig in, started as victims,” said Gamble. “This is not to say that every victim becomes a victimizer, but it is a dark possible future of someone who has massive trauma beyond their capacity to process or get past. So that’s a big question: Which future is Julia’s future?”

While some fans feared this would position both victims of sexual assault as possible villains, the producers see Julia as one who is fighting for what is right despite her troubles.

“Julia has always been complicated. She doesn’t have a lot of support, she doesn’t have Brakebills, she doesn’t have the kind of friends that Quentin has,” Gamble continued. “So she is less equipped to make some of these big decisions about magic. And sometimes she makes the right call and sometimes she makes the wrong call. That’s sort of part of being 22 and reaching really high.

“The stakes have become much, much greater for her now because the damage that she’s fighting through is more extreme and because she’s trying to do damage control, having unleashed Reynard. he is trying desperately to triage because she unleashed a monster who is still out there. She’s trying to mitigate future damage. Other women will be attacked.”

Charles Mesure as The Beast, Stella Maeve as Julia in "The Magicians"

Charles Mesure as The Beast, Stella Maeve as Julia in “The Magicians”

Carole Segal/Syfy

“The Magicians” has often reached deeper than its superficial charms of magic, mayhem, and sexy spell-casting co-eds to examine the students’ psyches: Quentin’s depression, Julia’s ongoing trauma from her rape, and the unconventional parenting that made Alice uptight. This constant search for meaning and control often mirrors the characters’ quests at Brakebills and in Fillory.

“Magic is a wonderful metaphor for mastering something you think is going to make you happier, whether that is a marriage, a job, a talent. You only learn through experience that mastering something or acquiring something outside yourself is not an automatic route to happiness,” said executive producer John McNamara. “In fact, it will often exacerbate whatever is wrong with you. And I’m speaking about Donald Trump being sworn in. His problems, and they are infinite in nature and terrifying in scope, are only going to be exacerbated by being the most powerful human on earth.”

READ MORE: From ‘Speechless’ to ‘The Magicians’: The Best New TV Families of 2016, According to the Critics

Gamble added, “I think our unconscious minds were really working overtime because we were breaking this season during election season. So there’s a lot about getting power, having responsibility you’re not really prepared for.”

This fear and anxiety took shape and became a major force in Season 2.

“There’s an entity from Season 1 that’s secretly been destroying or undermining everything. It gets worse and worse and worse and worse,” said McNamara. “That entity has been in and out of episodes from almost the beginning, and it’s not the Beast. We will reveal the entity’s identity in Season 2. As we reveal the entity’s identity as this character on the show, when we got to that moment [in writing], we thought, ‘Oh my god. It’s really a metaphor for Trump.’ It really was a metaphor for someone who is completely and utterly has no empathy, no connection to real leadership, no connection to even rational thinking. And that entity controls everything about your life.”

“The Magicians” returns on Wednesday, Jan. 25 at 9 p.m. on Syfy.

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Arjun Gupta in "The Magicians"

Arjun Gupta in “The Magicians”

Carole Segal/Syfy

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Revolutionary in Residence, Come See Me February 11th in Colonial Williamsburg


Beginning my Colonial Afro-Virginian Barbecue Experiment, Colonial Williamsburg

Beginning my Colonial Afro-Virginian Barbecue Experiment, Colonial Williamsburg

I believe in America.  Even now when so many things feel out of place and regressive.  I am dedicated to reminding us about our story and the ways in which we have co-created a unique world without parallel in the history of humankind.  This loud proclamation of “exceptionalism” is not just a song of praise, but of criticism and critique.  I realize that this country is the only place in which I am possible, and by possible, I mean a set of circumstances so extraordinary and infuriating that its a miracle I’m here.

America is a place where living history still finds takers in the museum industry. We are young but we are aging, pushing each day further and farther away from the birth pangs of this sprawling corner of what was once merely an outpost in the Atlantic world.  We crave self-knowledge of the American journey.  We look into the mirror-pools of the past in hopes of divining our future, and some of us do this to protect ourselves from future mishaps.  Whittled down to butter churning, sweating in a field, making shoes or reenacting speeches, living history is all and none of this.  Living history is a door into ourselves as well and a clue into the everyday lived humanity of our ancestors.

For African Americans living history has been fraught with difficulty. It is full of painful reminders as well as glimmers of triumph.  Only a few of us have dared to walk through the doors and remain dedicated to interpreting the past.  We do so not out of any sort of spiritual masochism, but in the spirit of cultural preservation, commitment to social awareness and respect of our past paths as a people.  This place, carved for us by those who saw a need is a meaningful and highly spiritual space where we confront and create, weep and rejoice, create and re-fashion.

It is a great privilege to be Colonial Williamsburg’s first Revolutionary in Residence.  It will mean a year of cooking, honing my craft, creating gatherings where we can celebrate the African-Virginian heritage and legacy in Williamsburg and beyond and create tastes for the visitors of the past as shaped by African and African-Virginian brains and hands.  I do not see this as merely an opportunity to enrich my career but to serve my country at its (and the world’s) largest living history museum, an opportunity to both educate and learn and give more honor and greater awareness to the astounding creativity, courage and civilized precision brought to this land by my Ancestors.

When I interpret the Africans and African Americans of the 18th century, I am in rapture.  To me they are unfortunately remote from us and our cultural memory and I want to restore them to our consciousness.  My journey research The Cooking Gene has brought me closer to them, and just getting a taste, I want to know more. Being at Colonial Williamsburg every month, I feel that sense of connection with them and the opportunity to ennoble them further and enlighten others about their world.   I hope the food you taste when you come visit Chowning’s Tavern or Traditions will give you a sense of the deep African and African Virginian roots of Southern food.  I hope you get to see our Sankofa Food Lab–a place where the historic foods of Africa and the early South will be studied intensely and brought back into contemporary use and understanding.

Join me on February 11th at the Kimball Theater to find out just what a Revolutionary in Residence is, and what we can learn from the intersecting crossroads of culture, food, history and the future.  You gotta get a ticket, so please plan ahead!



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