REVIEW: The 35th Boston Film Festival brought comic wit and moving narratives to Shorts Program I

Sponsored in part by Starz and supported by The Hollywood Reporter, The 35th Boston Film Festival had a lot to offer on this landmark year.  Though it took place on a gorgeous fall weekend, audiences gathered to attend the four-day festival that included world premiere shows and films (Whaling, American Tragedy and She’s in Portland), a wide variety of short films, and clever independent films from Thursday, September 19 through Sunday, September 22.

Some of the highlights included the US Premiere of JoJo Rabbit, the East coast premiere of Once Upon A River and A Hidden Life, and special event screenings such as NBC’s Bluff City Law and The Dog Doc.  The festival also featured powerful documentaries such as The Last Harvest:  You Can’t Grow Without Change and The Wild.  Click here for a closer look at the full schedule.

jo jo rabbit_

The Boston Film Festival presented US Premiere of indie film, ‘JoJo Rabbit’ Photo credit to Fox Serachlight Pictures

The Boston Film Festival took place for the most part at the stellar Showplace Icon Theatre.  Located at the Boston Seaport and conveniently located at the Courthouse stop on the Silver Line, The Showplace Icon Theatre features state-of-the-art stadium seating with plush reclining chairs, a beverage holder, and a place for your popcorn.  Click here for a closer look at this amazing theatre and here for more information and tickets.

Showplace Icon Theatre

Showplace Icon Theatre, located at Boston Seaport. Photo courtesy of Jeanne Denizard

The Shorts Program I took place on day three of the festival on Saturday, September 21 and featured a dynamic group of films that ranged from heartrending to hilarious to the macabre.  It was a selection likely to appeal to everyone.

Boston Film Festival 'Class of 84'

Alex Salsburg as Mom and Harley Harrison as Mike Photo credit to the Boston Film Festival and Class of 84

Directed by Alex Salsburg and Joe Andrade, Class of 84 is a narrated animated short film that offers an amusing and clever angle on helicopter parenting.  Dr. Katz’s Jonathan Katz is involved in the project.  Through clean, colorful, and two dimensional animation, Class of 84 delves into the life of a teenager living with his constantly hovering, overprotective mother.  From eating raw cookie dough to crossing the street, Class of 84 has its share of silly moments, but overall a fun and interesting look at the virtues of listening to your mother.

Directed by Jon Bloch, Waiting Game takes a darker turn exploring a tough and complicated relationship between constantly worried and well meaning Kenny, portrayed by John Patrick Amedori and his ailing, frustrated father, portrayed by Bruce McGill as Mel.  It doesn’t take long for this meaningful short film to cause a lump in one’s throat.

Boston Film Festival 'Waiting Game'

‘Waiting Game’ Photo credit to Boston Film Festival and ‘Waiting Game’

Waiting Game is a relatable tale about how family can have the best of intentions and those intentions can end up getting misconstrued in the worst way.  John Patrick Amedori Bruce McGill deliver powerful and moving performances that can sometimes be painful to watch as they build a fragile, tension-filled chasm between them.  Waiting Game balances a few lighter moments between Kenny and sweet waitress Alyssa, portrayed by Dilshad Vadsaria.

On a lighter note, director Barbara Elbinger directs You Need Help, a heartfelt look at a retired married couple.  Featuring a fitting soundtrack, Fred, portrayed by Edmund Dehn, is a depressed husband who longs to put vitality and fun back into his life with his all too practical wife, Doreen, portrayed by Eileen Nicholas.   These two have a wonderful chemistry even when they do not see eye to eye and there is much more to these two than they seem.  To witness Fred’s unconventional antics in recapturing the joy in their marriage is worth the price of the ticket.

The Boston Film Festival The Seal

Shahana Goswami as Sheetal in ‘The Seal’ Photo credit to Boston Film Festival and The Seal

Directed by Richa Rudola, The Seal takes a look at Shahana Goswami as Sheetal, a woman haunted by her past when she receives a mysterious, sealed package.  Though the story is fictional, Director Richa Rudola was inspired to create this tale based on events she witnessed and experienced as a woman growing up in India.

The Seal delves into the struggles that keep people stuck in their pain, unable to move on with their lives.  As the haunting phrase, ‘Remember what Mama used to Say’ permeates Sheetal’s thoughts, she seeks comfort in caring, but shady Daquane Cherry as Ruben.  However, some of The Seal’s best scenes are in the unspoken moments, allowing the audience to draw their own conclusions.

Boston Film Festival 'Boy Eats Girl: A Zombie Love Story'

Photo credit to the Boston Film Festival and ‘Boy Eats Girl: A Zombie Love Story’

Director Sarah Gurfield puts a little love in a zombie’s heart in Boy Eats Girl:  A Zombie Love Story.  Zombies seem to be all the rage and a love struck zombie picking flowers can be humorous, but found these seven short minutes all too dark and grisly to muster adoration.

The Bigonia Garden, directed by Ron Goldin and based on Goldin’s own experiences, is a foreign short film that explores an unexpected connection between neighbors in war torn Ashdod in Tel Aviv.  As missiles are launched over their heads, Sound Producer Adam and neighbor Bar retreat to the stairwell in their building, the safest place during a crisis.  It is a snapshot into the lives of people who have no choice but live in the moment during a tumultuous time.

It is a beautiful, personal film and loner Adam, portrayed by Adam Hirsch and Bar, portrayed by Bar Ackerman, have compelling chemistry with an unpredictable conclusion.

Directed by Joel Marsh, A Valley explores a couple of adventure-seeking risk takers as they go on a camping excursion together.  It is based on a short story called The Marsh.  They make each other laugh, wax philosophical, and the film gives the impression that all they have is each other.  The film was a bit ambiguous and would have liked to have delved more into their relationship to give the film more emotional weight.

Boston Film Festival’s Shorts Program I also featured American Life and Heirloom, but were not reviewed.  Click here for more about this year’s festival and future updates.

 

 

 

 

 

NYC actress, writer, and filmmaker Stephanie Iscovitz talks finding home, making it big, and her latest projects, including ‘Bruce Loves You’

From a southern city to the Big Apple, actress, writer, filmmaker, producer, casting assistant, and T. Schreiber Studio and Theatre graduate Stephanie Iscovitz learned it takes a quick study to make it in the big city.  Working on a variety of diverse projects, Stephanie continues to inspire and entertain through her unique storytelling.  She will run the New York New Works Theatre Festival this October.  Click here for more information on entering the festival and further details.  Submit for free by August 15.

New York New Works Theatre Festival

Film submissions are free through August 15. Festival with Broadway panel takes place in October. Photo courtesy of New York New Works Theatre Festival

Stephanie talks about finding home, her current project, her most challenging and rewarding experiences as a woman in film, and who she would love to work with in the future.

Sleepless Critic:  You are from Ft. Lauderdale, Florida, but you decided to pursue your career in NYC.  What do you love most about the city and what ultimately inspired you to stay?

Stephanie Iscovitz:  I knew I wanted to move to New York when I was 12. Oprah calls them ‘Ah-ha!’ moments. I visited the city with my family and it wasn’t the bright lights or tall buildings that enticed me, but truly the first time I felt home. I felt connected to the city unlike anything else.  Nine years after moving here, I still love the energy, the urgency, the constant inspiration, and creativity.

T. Shreiber Studio

T. Schreiber Studio and Theatre graduate Stephanie Iscovitz with class of 2011 Photo Credit: T. Schreiber Studio & Theatre

 SC:  You have delved into a wealth of projects as an actress working in New York City, always with enthusiasm for the next project.  Please tell me what it was like when you first arrived.

SI:  I really had to get it together when I first arrived because the competition is too fierce. I awakened to the reality of what it actually takes to be an actor and to stay afloat in the industry. Coming from Florida, I thought I would audition, book this role, and be rich and famous before I’m 30.  It’s so hard.  So many steps on the ladder and hoops you have to jump through to succeed and as a woman, a glass ceiling.  You have to be somewhat naive to get into the business and then an ultimate bad-ass to stay in it.  The first time I felt like I got it right was an audition for a role portraying a very complex, troubled stand-up comedian. I never felt more alive and was still reeling from the audition when the producer followed me out of the room and thanked me for my work, which never happens. I didn’t book it, which is a lesson that talent sometimes has nothing to do with who gets the job.

SC:  You have delved into a variety of female driven projects. What has most surprised you working on these productions?

SI:  What surprised me most was the real, systemic issues preventing women from rising through the ranks. Women graduate from film school at 50 percent, the same rate that men do, so there are no lack of trained, qualified, and willing female directors. Women are held to a much higher standard than men before they are considered qualified. There are countless examples of male directors who were snatched up by the studio after having only directed a very small micro-budget film and literally handed the opportunity of taking on a multi-million dollar studio movie. That kind of risk has almost never been taken on by a female director. I was never aware of these greater challenges until I got into the business which is why it’s imperative to have these conversations about the revolution of women in film.

SC:  Of the various jobs you do, what has been most challenging and rewarding for you?

SI:  Though every role has its own set of challenges and triumphs, the most rewarding is being able to collaborate with other independent female filmmakers to create something that grows organically.  I’ve learned that the film you shoot will be different than the film you write and the film you edit will be different than the film you shot.  It’s movie magic to nurture this idea with a team you respect, admire, and have a final product you never could have created on your own. Each learning experience gives me the confidence to guide me through to the next project.

Big Apple Film Festival with Jerry Stiller

2014 Big Apple Film Festival – Stephanie won for her first film, which was screened alongside Jerry Stiller. It was a comedy called ‘Ladies Night’ Photo Credit: Stephanie Iscovitz

SC:  You have taken on thrillers, dramas, comedy, and other genres in your work.  Just a couple of the comedies you are a part of is OK, Cupid and the web series, Third Wheel.  I understand Third Wheel is doing well and was nominated for an award.

SI:  I enjoy all genres and hope to continue to create a diverse body of work. As an actor, I tend to play darker, troubled characters but also have extensive improv experience having completed The People’s Improv training program. I was on two indie improv teams performing in comedy clubs throughout the city for a few years and loved it.  Improv is a reminder to stay in the moment and inspires a ‘yes, and’ attitude for life. It’s where I met my close friends Sarah and Darin who are part of the Third Wheel team.  On Third Wheel, Sarah plays the lead character, ‘Lu’ and Darin directed, shot, edited and scored the entire project.  We were nominated for Best Ensemble at the NYC WebFest. Third Wheel got distribution through SeekaTV, a streaming platform for the independent filmmaker. See the complete first season here.

Scene from 'Bruce Loves You'

Stephanie Iscovitz in her latest film, ‘Bruce Loves You’ Photo Credit: Darin Quan

SC:  Tell me about your latest film, Bruce Loves You.

SI:  I reconnected with Sarah and Darin after Third Wheel to film Bruce Loves You. Chris Roberti of HBO’s High Maintenance and Comedy Central’s Broad City is Bruce, a charismatic and handsome ghost in a complicated relationship with a young woman who happens to be alive. When he begins to compliment her roommate’s speaking voice, it becomes clear he is not a one-woman ghost.  I portray the roommate.  The inspiration behind Bruce focuses on improbable or ridiculous stories and how they can help alleviate the inevitable problems of time and money in film production.  A blender was also always breaking down, so this story was a natural expression of all those elements in a true ‘indie’ spirit.  See the trailer here.

'Bruce Loves You' cast at Lighthouse International film fest

‘Bruce Loves You’ team at the 2017 Lighthouse International Film Festival Photo courtesy of Darin Quan

SC:  You also work for the Donna Grossman Casting Agency.  How did you get involved in that line of work?

SI:  I am so grateful I got the job through my best friend.  Every actor should have an opportunity to work in a casting office.  You learn nothing is personal and the best person for the job doesn’t always get it for reasons beyond anyone’s control.  Once we were casting for a luxury eye-wear company and the model they wanted to book had a small cut on her finger and lost the job even though it would have been healed and completely unnoticeable by the shoot date.  Another time we were casting a commercial and booked an actress in her mid-40s.  The client changed their mind and wanted the role to be for an 80 year-old actress. So even after booking it, that actress didn’t get it. You’re not in it ‘til you’re in it.

SC:  Please tell me about projects you are currently working on and who you would like to work with in the future.

SI:  I’ve been working on a virtual reality (VR) project in narrative form for the past year. VR experiences have an unprecedented potential to elicit empathy, which makes it perfect for a story I’m exploring about unconventional love and “otherness.”  It’s the first time I’m focusing more on myself and creating a role that showcases my acting range instead of a more ensemble piece where all my friends have equal screen time.

Right now I’m dying to work with Ana Lily Amirpour. Her debut feature, A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night, is a huge inspiration for my VR project. She also spoke at the Nevada Women’s Film Festival in March where my film, The Man with the Western Hat, was accepted. I admire her work and she offered some real insight into navigating this industry. Her sophomore feature, The Bad Batch was just released June 23rd. I hope our paths cross one day.