Cannes, France -
At the 58th Cannes International Film Festival - now known simply
as Festival de Cannes - GO Brooklyn tracked down several filmmakers
and artists who created works for film.
In a year in which the festival (which ran May 1122) saw an abundance of work by veteran directors in the main competitive section of the festival (David Cronenberg’s "A History of Violence," Gus van Sant’s "Last Days," Wim Wenders’ "Don’t Come Knocking," Lars von Trier’s "Manderlay," Jim Jarmusch’s "Broken Flowers" - which won the Grand Prize, and the Belgian Dardenne Brothers, who won their second Palme d’Or for their film "The Child," to name just a few), there are also many first-time filmmakers throughout the festival, many of whom could become household names within a few years. You can count among these some Brooklynites.
Just about every director starts his or her career by making a short film, so you can be sure that in a given year there are thousands of new short films made. But only nine are chosen to be in the competition at this, the world’s most recognized film festival. This year, one of the nine is "Missing," the story of a young man who must follow mysterious clues to find his missing girlfriend, made by a collection of Brooklyn filmmakers.
The interiors of "Missing" were shot in director Kit Hui’s Williamsburg apartment, while Coney Island and the exterior of the Brooklyn Public Library at Grand Army Plaza provided additional locations.
The rest of the "Missing" team includes producer Cherry Montejo and cameraman Eric Lin, both of Park Slope, and producer Ramsey Fong. Sitting on the terrace of the Noga Hilton in Cannes, which overlooks the Croisette (the wide, seaside boulevard where most of the wheeling-and-dealing-action takes place), they talked about how they came together as a team.
"We all met in Berkeley, when we were students," Lin told GO Brooklyn. Each arrived in New York separately, she said, to work on various projects for directors, productions companies and distributors. Now they’ve come together to make their own films, and "Missing" is Hui’s Columbia University thesis film.
Hui had submitted "Missing" to Cinefondation, the arm of the festival that deals with student filmmakers, and the film was rejected. Three weeks later, she received a call from the festival office; they wanted her film for the competition.
"When they called, I thought they were rejecting me a second time!" Hui recalled. But in fact, it was a different division of the festival. So off they went. They may have been short filmmakers, but they said they were treated very well.
"The festival organizers took good care of me," she said, "including a lovely dinner at the Carlton Hotel [another of the festival hot spots] and having us practice walking up the steps of the theater" - an integral part of the pomp and circumstance of Festival de Cannes!
But beyond the fun, what does it mean to have a short film in Cannes? Hui acknowledged that short films are made as "calling cards" to the industry. And since everyone in the industry knows the Cannes festival, having a film - even a short subject such as "Missing" - can put a filmmaker on the industry’s radar.
Park Sloper Jim McKay, an executive producer of Kyle Henry’s feature film, "Room," which was presented in the Directors Fortnight section of the festival devoted to filmmakers outside Cannes’ official selection, has another view on how Cannes can help a film.
"I think that screening at Cannes is great for international sales," he said. Although it may be "a bit off the map" in terms of domestic distribution in the United States, being screened at Cannes gives buyers and distributors who missed it when it was screened at Sundance another opportunity to catch it.
"We’re fortunate to be handled by Celluloid Dreams [a French sales company], and we’re hoping that they find the film a nice home in many, many countries," said McKay.
He knows whereof he speaks, having produced, through his C-Hundred Film Corp. production company, many U.S. independent films. McKay got involved with "Room" and its Texan director, Lyle Henry, after McKay noticed Henry’s work on various indie films.
"The production budget was lean and mean, and I was impressed with the script and Kyle’s ideas," said McKay. "I admired the boldness of the project. It felt like a no-brainer to me. So C-Hundred Film Corp. invested some money in the film and from there I performed my usual, fairly hands-off executive producer job, giving notes on script drafts, and then giving input into the cut. The producers did all the hard work."
"Room" follows a woman living an oppressive suburban life in Houston and the visions that cause her to flee to New York. GO Brooklyn asked McKay how a director from Texas wound up with a screenplay which takes place - partly - in Brooklyn.
"The main character goes on a quest of sorts," he said, "one that could really only take place in NYC, as the center of the U.S. psychic universe."
McKay described the shooting process, which included locations in Manhattan, Queens and Brooklyn’s DUMBO neighborhood.
"The shoot in NYC was down and dirty, shooting wild in the streets and on the subway and scrounging for locations," said McKay. "The small crew was incredibly talented and dedicated."
The Critics’ Week is another section of the Festival that presents new works outside the main competition. It was here that "Junebug," directed by former Brooklyn resident Phil Morrison, could be seen. The film, which has already been seen in the U.S. at Sundance and New Directors/New Films in Manhattan, is the story of familial friction set against the backdrop of a Chicago art dealer trying to track down an eccentric Southern painter.
While at a lunch at the water’s edge in the swanky Carlton Beach Restaurant (that the film’s U.S. distributor, Sony Pictures Classics, hosted), Morrison talked about his film and the Brooklyn connection.
Although he’s lived in Prospect Heights, Cobble Hill and Boerum Hill, he said, when it came time to find an artist to create the paintings of the reclusive North Carolina artist used in the film, he turned to Park Slope artist Ann Wood. She had worked with Morrison before, making props and paintings for his commercials and films, so he came to her for "Junebug."
"It was a delicious assignment for me," Wood said. "A complete departure from anything else that I do."
Wood spoke to GO Brooklyn about the process of creating art for a film’s character.
"To begin, I read the script which called for seven or eight paintings that refer to specific Civil War battles and figures, the character’s religious visions, giant penises, etc.," said Wood. "Then we [Wood, Morrison and production designer David Doernberg looked at a lot of reference material that Phil had gathered: the work of self-taught, visionary and outsider artists like Howard Finster and Henry Darger, and Civil War history.
"We talked about what the paintings should look like," said Wood. "Phil and I spent the next week or so in a trial and error process until we came up with something that felt authentic. Once we got rolling, it was pure pleasure for me, and I ended up making lots more paintings than required."
Her favorites are what she refers to as "the Lincoln paintings," a series Wood has continued to paint on her own. The entire process took Wood about eight weeks, although she worked on other pieces during that period such as "a 70-foot landscape mural - in the style of the Hudson River School - on canvas for installation in a residence in Boston."
From the local to the global - the Cannes screenings for these films introduced all of these Brooklyn media makers - including painters - to an international audience. And that is a good thing all around.
Marian Masone is the associate director of programming for the Film Society of Lincoln Center and chief curator of The New York Video Festival also at Lincoln Center.