“EVERYTHING I WANT TO DO IS ‘COUNTER PROGRAMMING,’ ” SAYS WRITER-DIRECTOR KEITH BEARDEN, whose short The Raftsman’s Razor has racked up awards this year at SXSW, Clermont-Ferrand and the Florida Film Festival in addition to screening at Sundance and New Directors/New Films. “And that’s because everything I see [in the movies today] is disengaged from the reality that I experience.”
Case in point: Bearden’s short, his second, which he co-wrote with Joel Haskard. Bathed in the warm glow that cinematically signifies American adolescence, the film tells the tale of two young fans of a monthly comic, The Raftsman, that chronicles the philosophical musings of an everyman who does nothing each day but drift in a raft, think and shave.
“I was a teenage misfit,” Bearden explains, and his short, which mixes illustration, animation and live action, is, appropriately, a coming-of-age tale depicting the teens’ confusion when the comic throws them for a loop. “Disappointment is the first lesson of adulthood,” he says.
Now based in New York, Bearden spent years in Seattle, where he wrote about theater, music and film for publications like the Seattle Weekly, the Stranger, Fangoria and Starlog. “Interviewing directors like Jonathan Demme, John Sayles and Russ Meyer was my real film school,” he says. Prior to making The Raftsman’s Razor, Bearden wrote six unsold feature screenplays and wrote for cable television, but after he was “severely mugged” in 2002 he decided to take control of his career. “Nobody wants to read a 90-page script,” he says, “but everyone will watch a seven-minute short.” Producer-editor Brad Buckwalter kicked in with some funds, and Bearden completed his $20,000 budget through loans and credit cards.
Of the current climate, in which indie filmmakers achieve early success and then get sucked into development hell, Bearden remarks, “You are what you do. If you only make a film every 10 years, you’re not really a filmmaker. I’m making another movie this year. It doesn’t matter if it’s Miss January, a script I have with [producer] Gill Holland, a Hollywood movie or if I’ll be borrowing money again.” — S.M.
|PHOTO: MATT MAHURIN|
IF ONE NEEDED ANY FURTHER PROOF THAT THE GIDDY OPTIMISM OF THE CLINTON ERA HAS NO PLACE IN THE 21ST CENTURY, they need look no further than Rachel Boynton’s debut documentary feature Our Brand Is Crisis. In the film, the blue-chip American political consulting firm GCS, led by “progressive” strategists James Carville and Stan Greenberg, arrive in Bolivia and unleash some hyper-sophisticated marketing artillery in an attempt to reelect former president Gonzalo “Goni” Sánchez de Lozada. What follows is a riveting and intellectually provocative tale of clashing ethics and ideologies, as well as a portrait of a country in the midst of profound conflict and suffering.
“I wanted to make a film that highlights international themes without being a polemic,” says Boynton, who financed the film through a mix of foundation grants, private and bank loans and BBC presales. “We believe that we can spread our brand of democracy overseas, but not everyone agrees.” A graduate of Columbia’s School of Journalism, Boynton got her start producing docs for PBS and other outlets before taking a job as a bartender to free up the time to make Crisis, which premiered at SXSW and also played at New Directors/New Films and the Full Frame Documentary Film Festival, where Boynton won the Guggenheim Emerging Artist Award. She’s currently working on a film about international affairs and national security issues. — M.R.
Contact: (212) 877-2461, firstname.lastname@example.org
8 DANIELLE LURIE
AFTER MAJORING IN PHILOSOPHY AT STANFORD, Danielle Lurie was working as a financial analyst at a real estate investment trust in San Francisco when she learned that her roommate’s mother lived next door to Robin Williams. As luck would have it, Lurie had developed an improvised sitcom idea with some comic improvisers at Stanford, and an agent once told her it would fly only if she could attach Robin Williams. She FedExed her project to Williams’s house and got back a response…from his assistant. “He wrote me that Robin couldn’t look at it for legal reasons,” she says with a laugh, “but he said I should send it to his managers at MBST Entertainment.”
Lurie did and a few days later got a call from the company saying they liked the concept. “I flew to L.A. and met with [MBST principal] Larry Brezner,” she recalls. “Billy Crystal happened to be there. I met him too and I thought, I have to move to L.A.” She did, and when the Williams project fizzled out she committed herself to filmmaking while working such jobs as a club hostess, cartoonist and production assistant. “As a p.a I watched directors and noted what they were doing,” she says. “I also learned that if you get coffee for the right people, they can help you make movies.”
Using her crew connections, she made “a few short films designed to teach me what not to do,” then came across a New York Times article on honor killings that inspired her breakthrough short In the Morning, which screened at the 2005 Sundance and Tribeca Film Festivals and got her signed by L.A.’s Foursight Management and UTA.
Set in Turkey but filmed in Lurie’s own Los Angeles apartment, and in Turkish (pronounced phonetically by non-Turkish-speaking actors), the short is a gut-wrenching depiction of an international human rights issue. “Film is such a powerful tool to create awareness and social consciousness,” she says. Now she’s developing a feature version of the short as well as a film about genocide in Sudan and, on the other extreme, “a silly cartoon show about a little girl who has her own private audience wherever she goes.” — S.M.
Contact: Jason Burns at UTA: (310) 273-6700, email@example.com
9 PATRICIA RIGGEN
WHEN MEXICO-BORN PATRICIA RIGGEN FIRST ARRIVED IN NEW YORK TO ATTEND COLUMBIA’S GRADUATE FILM PROGRAM, she had a fair amount of production and writing experience but little confidence as a director. When she discovered that her handyman Richard Fontenelle and his family had once been the subject of Gordon Parks’s 1968 groundbreaking photo essay about African-American poverty for Life magazine and that an exhibit of Parks’s work was coming up, she had the wherewithal to shoot Richard, his sister and Parks as they reflect on the almost unbearably tragic story of the Fontenelles, but not the moxie to finish the documentary. “It was the first thing I had ever done,” says Riggen, now 34, “and at the time I thought there was no way it could be any good.”
Several years later, after Riggen had become the first Mexican ever to win the Student Academy Award for her magical-realist fiction short La Milpa, she decided she’d revisit the documentary, Family Portrait. “I knew I had something when, after we screened it at the  Columbia Film Festival, the curtain went up and everyone was crying,” says Riggen. The film went on to win the Jury Prize for Short Filmmaking at Sundance 2005 and continues to pick up awards on the world festival circuit. Riggen is “keeping her fingers crossed” for a Short Subject Oscar nomination next year.
For Riggen, the success of Family Portrait convinced her to continue balancing fiction and nonfiction projects as she takes the next step with her career. “I decided that while I waited for my first feature to happen I would just make a feature-length documentary — otherwise I’d be very unhappy,” says Riggen. “Although I’m a young filmmaker and I don’t yet know what my style is, if I have to say one thing that I’m interested in, it’s to take the audience on a journey and make them feel things.” — M.R.
Contact: The Kohner Agency: (310) 550-1060
“WHY DO PEOPLE ALWAYS NEED TO CHANGE AT THE END OF EVERY ‘TEEN FILM,’ TO BE LIKE EVERYONE ELSE?,” asks 24-year-old director Cam Archer, whose debut feature, Wild Tigers I Have Known, goes into production later this summer with Gus Van Sant executive-producing. “Wild Tigers is a film for all the kids who did not like it in The Breakfast Club when [Ally Sheedy’s character] Allison Reynolds felt better about herself once they gave her the makeover,” explains Archer. “It’s the coming-of-age movie that I would have wanted to see when I was coming of age. It’s about not changing. It’s more about escaping, and finding your own new comfortable world — which in junior high is a tough thing to do. It’s a very dark film,” he admits, “but so are most people’s adolescent years.”
Archer caught the filmmaking bug at the age of 17. He completed several films in 2004 — each shot by the brilliant young d.p. Aaron Platt, and featuring nonprofessional actors from his Santa Cruz, Calif., neighborhood. American Fame, Pt.2: Forgetting Jonathan Brandis, Archer’s film about the former child star who committed suicide in 2003, debuted at the Sundance Film Festival earlier this year. Archer also attended the 2005 Sundance director’s lab to further develop Wild Tigers, and he recently completed a haunting new music video for the band Six Organs of Admittance, which can be viewed on his Web site, www.camarcher.com.
“After several unsuccessful relationships with different producer-types,” Archer is producing the low-budget Wild Tigers on his own. “It’s been a bit of a nightmare,” he confesses, “but I’m learning a lot more that I would have had I given this role to someone else. The folks at the Sundance Institute have been behind me all the way with this film,” he adds. “They’re really like film therapists. I don’t know how I’d be doing this film without them. Allison Anders has also been a great mentor lately, and my brother Nate is doing the sound design. I feel so fortunate to have all these people in my corner with this project.” — Steve Gallagher