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MADE-IN-MICHIGAN Film Festival • DIRECTORS IN FOCUS

Posted In:Arts & Entertainment, Movie Reviews | From Issue 816 | By: | 24th September, 2015 | 0

MADE-IN-MICHIGAN Film Festival •  DIRECTORS IN FOCUS
MADE-IN-MICHIGAN Film Festival •  DIRECTORS IN FOCUS
MADE-IN-MICHIGAN Film Festival •  DIRECTORS IN FOCUS
MADE-IN-MICHIGAN Film Festival •  DIRECTORS IN FOCUS

T-Rex • Documentary feature (89 minutes)  Showing Oct. 16th at 7:40 PM

This film is a full-length documentary feature about Claressa Shields, who grew up in Flint and become the first gold medal winner in women's boxing at the last Olympics games in China. It is also an intimate coming-of-age story about a new kind of American heroine.

For the first time ever, women’s boxing is included in the 2012 Olympics. Fighting for gold from the U.S. is Claressa “T-Rex” Shields, just 17 years old, and by far the youngest competitor. From the hard knock streets of Flint, Michigan, Claressa is undefeated and utterly confident. Her fierceness extends beyond the ring. She protects her family at any cost, even when their instability and addictions threaten to derail her dream.

Claressa does have one stable force in her life. Coach Jason Crutchfield has trained her since she was just a scrawny 11-year-old hanging out at his gym. Jason always wanted a champion, he just never thought it’d be a girl. Her relationships with her coach and her family grow tense as she gets closer to her dream. But Claressa is fierce and determined. She desperately wants to take her family to a better, safer place and winning a gold medal.

Directors Zackary Canepari and Drea Cooper have worked together since 2009 and have directed the award-winning online short doc series California is a Place. With over 10 million views online, the films have screened at festivals around the world, including Sundance.

The genesis for T-Rex began when producer Sue Jaye Johnson started boxing 5 years ago and experienced a transformation.  “I started wondering what other women were getting out of it  and why they were hitting the heavy bags and each other. So I started photographing the women in my gym,” she explains. “ Then I started  following them to tournaments. Quickly, I realized this personal project was intersecting with history, that three of the women I was photographing were going to be at the first Olympics to allow women to box.”

“Enter Claressa Shields. She was just 16 and had barely qualified to compete in the last Olympic qualifier. She fought unlike anyone else — like there were no limits for her, or for women in the ring. I asked her and her coach if I could interview them. That photo series turned into a radio documentary and then I started looking for a way to make a film about her. Then I got a phone call from Zack and Drea.”

“They were casting for a pilot TV show about girl fighters and came across a story about Claressa and went out to Flint to meet her. Like me, they were ready to drop everything and follow her. It was so clear that the stakes were high, that this was about more than boxing and that Claressa has figured out how to harness everything in her life and channel it into her singular dream. Zack and Drea called me up and we decided to meet at Claressa’s next fight to see if we should work together. It was a total arranged marriage. Sometimes those work really well.” 

When asked about the most challenging component of this film project, Sue reflects how:  “Real life is complicated and you never know what’s going to help drive the storyline, what is going to be a dramatic moment. So we shot nearly 300 hours of footage plus another 40 hours of interviews. Getting into the editing room and managing all that footage and making sense of it all, that was incredibly challenging and it took the better part of two years.”

For Sue what distinguishes T-Rex from other documentary films is that it’s not a classic sports story.  “Yes, it’s about a girl boxer, but it’s a coming of age story. It’s about America. It’s about girls and resilience and family and loyalty. We stayed with Claressa for a year after the Olympics to capture what happened after all the attention subsided, when she was back to first period English class in her senior year of high school, trying to stay focused on graduating and trying to make sense of everything that just happened.”

“So, it’s got all the drama of a high stakes sporting event. You will feel it on your skin — sitting in  with the audience I have watched people move around, shadow box, stand up and cheer and yes, there are some tears -  but it’s really an intimate portrait of a girl on the cusp of independence.”

 

Celeste’s Sonata • Narrative Short / Student (12 minutes)   Showing Oct. 17th at 7:30 PM as part of the student Film MPI Workshop Film Premiere

Director & writer Jalon Lee is a 20-year old film school graduate. At a young age he possesses the strong ability to lead a team and bring an original concept to the big screen. When asked about his vision behind Celeste’s Sonata, Lee explains how essentially it is a revenge thriller very loosely based off an event that occurred in his life.

“I had a friend who was very talented and very musically gifted but it all changed when she endured her parents being mugged and put into the hospital,” explains Jalon. “Instead of continuing on her career like her parents would have wanted, she left music and tried to get revenge, but ended up becoming a drug addict. With Celesta’s Sonata, I’m attempting to dramatize this event to pose the question, “Is revenge really worth it?” and the common response is often “No”. However, if you were to put yourself in Celesta’s shoes, I believe you’ll find the answer is nowhere to be found.”

Jalon got his start making films as an amateur editor and visual effects artist. “I thought, ‘Hey, why don’t you try directing the content before it makes it into the editing process? So I gave it a shot and found that I love the position even more so than editing.  I’ve always had these dreams and visions I wanted to make into a reality and directing & writing is the perfect medium. With the skills I learned attending Compass College of Cinematic Arts, it was much easier to translate my vision and express it dramatically. Therefore, Celeste’s Sonata is a more aesthetically tasteful piece. However, since graduating from Compass, I have directed three films and written four more.”

“The most challenging component involved with this film was syncing Celesta’s violin playing with the backing track by Chopin,” continues Jalon. “The lead actress, Courtney Bloomstine was such a blessing enduring the violin tutorials I gave her. In the story, Celesta has 2 years to learn the violin. Courtney had a week, so that says something about her amazing ability to adapt.”

“What makes Celesta’s Sonata different from other films in its class is that you expect to be viewing a simple audition or coming of age story, but right as soon as you think you know what’s going on, you’ll find yourself watching this little girl’s unexpected and sinister plot unfold. I just want to thank God for making this possible and giving me the ability to make something that my team and I are proud of. This was my first short film and the most challenging one I’ve done so far.”  

 

 

Buzzard  • Narrative Feature (97-minutes) • Showing Oct. 17th at 3:55 PM.

Buzzard is no love story. Instead it is a film about the disillusionment of people in our very real world who make $9.99 an hour and consider this a decent wage, who don’t have health insurance and haven’t had it in years, and who pay their bills and that’s it.  They’re not poor, they are just aware of how the system works – it’s the status quo. They despise the neighborhood takeovers and unfair practices of mortgage companies and faceless chain stores. 

For writer, director, and editor Joel Potrykus, the notion of an America versus the upper 1-percent cuts much deeper than peaceful protests and bumper stickers. “I feel these American grievances need to be explore,” he states.

Buzzard focuses on angry office worker Marty Jackitansky, out to get what he feels he deserves, and follows his descent into unnerving paranoia. He’s not a slacker or loser so much as  a petty idealist. These acts of payback, combined with a foul temper, come back to haunt him, as Marty disregards rational behavior and indulges in absolute idiocy.

“I want audiences not so much to root for the protagonist, but to simply understand and even relate to his behavior, explains Joel.  “Marty lives in today’s America, and

likely will not follow some pre-fabricated redemptive arc. As with my previous film, APE, this film shows a diegetic world. There is no score, but lots of good music. It’s not a comedy, but it’s funny. It’s not a horror, but may be scary. And I’ve eliminated any possibility of glamour. It wants audiences to know that the truth is being told, even if it’s not coming from the

mouth of the protagonist.”

Joel resides in Grand Rapids, where he attended an unspecified film school. His first work with lead actor Joshua Burge was 2010’s 8mm short COYOTE, followed two years later by the feature APE, which won Best New Director at the 2012 Locarno Film Festival.

“Buzzard is my second feature film, based mostly on my time as a temp at Fifth Third Mortgage in Grand Rapids ten years ago,” he explains. “I combined influences from music to horror films to surrealism and just mashed them all together. It’s normally how I work. I just want to make something different and keep an audience guessing. “Genre” is a dirty word to me.”

“This is the final entry in my Animal Trilogy. They are loosely connected as a series of Angry Young Man films, all starring Joshua Burge, a musician-turned-actor that I’ve known for a long time. We work well together, and we’re both climbing the ladder together. The rest of the cast is composed of friends and local actors we found through auditions.”

“Since we work with low budgets and have a lot of rad friends and family, the money wasn’t the biggest challenge. The most fun, and tricky part, is hiding the camera when shooting in public, so that no one will stop you from shooting your secret film.”

“My two biggest influences on Buzzard were Harmony Korine and Nestle brand snack foods. Both are rule breakers, taking the norm and twisting it like a pretzel, quite literally, at times. Korine’s use of high art experimentation, mixed with low art genre clichés creates something new and fresh. In the same way, Nestle combines flavors that most wouldn’t dare mess with. They take risks and are sharp enough to spin it their own way when it’s a mistake. Wrapping a cheeseburger inside an American-style calzone is wild.”

“This screening will the Michigan farewell for awhile. Buzzard premiered at SXSW in March 2014, then released theatrically by Oscilloscope Pictures in March 2015. We wanted to give it a good send-off in its home-state.”

 

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