24 Frames

Movies: Past, present and future

Category: Mark Olsen

Sundance 2012: Real-life scares at screening of 'V/H/S'

January 25, 2012 |  1:41 pm


A late-night screening of the found-footage horror film "V/H/S" at Sundance yielded disturbing news: Shortly into the screening, one person had left the theater and fainted in the lobby while another had exited with nausea.

Producer Roxanne Benjamin, posting on Twitter, said that EMTs were called to the scene, that the event was not staged and "it was scary and not fun, and everyone is grateful the guy and his girlfriend are OK. And they wanted to go back in the theatre!" Benjamin would later post that the cause of the couple's problems were "altitude sickness, exhaustion, dehydration and alcohol” and not directly related to the film.

Either way, the movie is not for the faint of heart. Benjamin and fellow producer Brad Miska brought together six directors -- Adam Wingard, David Bruckner, Ti West, Glen McQuaid, Joe Swanberg and a collective known as Radio Silence -- to create six short horror films based on the notion of “found footage.”

The frame story follows a trio of hoodlums who come across a cache of videotapes after they break into a house; each of the shorts portrays what the burglars supposedly see on the tapes. The shorts each have a unique style and offer the requisite twists and gore.

Wingard shot the hoodlum story, while Bruckner tells the tale of three young men who get more than they bargain for when they film a night of carousing. West created a home movie of a couple whose road trip goes off course. Though all the filmmakers worked independently of one another, there are recurring themes and images involving such subjects as voyeurism.

During the Q&A after the screening, with all the directors present, Bruckner summed up many of the shorts in the anthology when he said his inspiration was to make a viewer "feel guilty, maybe, about the things that you thought about doing with a camera, maybe things you've done with a camera, things you plan on doing with a camera and punish you severely for it.”


Photos: The scene at Sundance 2012

Joe Swanberg to release new film online for free

SXSW 2011: Horror mixes with wit in Ti West's "The Innkeepers"

-- Mark Olsen in Park City, Utah

Photo: Kate Lyn Sheil in "V/H/S" by Ti West . Credit: Sundance Film Festival


Sundance 2012: A child's-eye view in 'Kid-Thing'

January 23, 2012 |  9:02 am

David and Nathan Zellner are premiering their new feature, "Kid-Thing," at the Sundance Film FestivalBrothers David and Nathan Zellner are American originals, makers of willfully oddball films. They will be premiering their second feature, "Kid-Thing," at the Sundance Film Festival on Monday as part of its NEXT section. The duo have become quite a fixture on the U.S. festival circuit, with a series of shorts including the recent, outrageous "Sasquatch Birth Journal 2." Their previous feature, 2008's "Goliath," was about a man whose loss of control in his life is snapped into focus when his cat goes missing.

"Kid-Thing" is about a 10-year-old girl (Sydney Aguirre) largely left to her own devices. An outsider less by choice than circumstance, she marauds around the playground, makes prank calls and wanders the woods on her own. There she finds a woman stuck at the bottom of a well. Unsure of what to do, she doesn't tell anyone, but keeps returning to check on and care for her discovery.

Considering their short films are marked by an off-beat humor and eccentric worldview, the Zellners' two feature films each have an unexpected emotional core, a surprise seriousness. Which brings up the question: How do they know what makes for a short and what makes for a feature?

PHOTOS: The scene at Sundance

"When we first come up with an idea for something, we can't force it into a certain time length or anything," David Zellner said by the phone from their home base in Austin, Texas, shortly before the start of the festival. "The idea dictates."

"Sometimes ideas are big and sometimes they're small," added Nathan, also on the line. "I think we have enough of them that if we're waiting on one of the bigger ones to progress, we can dip in and do a small one."

"Kid-Thing" captures the point-of-view of a young child whose eyes are opening for the first time to the world at large. Some things are silly, some scary, and it's all new.

"We really wanted it to be from that perspective, as opposed to a nostalgic look back from an adult," said David Zellner. "We wanted it to be very much in the now, with the beauty and the horror of everything that goes on at that age. One thing I like about childhood: Kids are like scientists and explorers; everything is new to them and they are constantly testing boundaries.

"They don't have any experience to apply to something," he added. "They come in from a fresh perspective, an outsider's perspective that an adult might not have. But they also have a kind of screwy kid-logic in how they deal with problems."

They cast Aguirre, the daughter of a childhood friend, after having worked with her on a music video they directed. Hoping to capture the same qualities of native toughness and innocent willfulness as in Linda Manz's seminal performances in Terrence Malick's "Days of Heaven" and Dennis Hopper's "Out of the Blue," the Zellners said they were surprised by how Aguirre assuredly responded to situations.

"I don't think we had to manipulate her at all," said Nathan Zellner. "It was a lot of mature conversations about what the character was going through and what the scene was about. She got it as if she was a seasoned actress who had done it before."

"At one point she busted us for trying to dumb things down to her a little," said David. "We were trying to explain the language of why you shoot things in a close-up and she looked at us like we were total morons."

As the story of "Kid-Thing" progresses, and the girl goes back to the well time and again, the film takes on the tone of a parable, something perhaps not quite totally real as small flourishes begin to depart from strict reality. So, which is it?

"We'd like for people to decide on their own," said David. "We definitely wanted to combine those qualities that are like a really earnest, naturalistic coming-of-age story with some qualities of a fable and keep the line kind of blurred which is which."


Sundance 2012: A dilemma of ethics, power in "Compliance"

Indie Focus: "Nobody Walks" is a big step for Ry Russo-Young

Sundance 2012: Rashida Jones does romantic dramedy in "Celeste And Jesse Forever"

-- Mark Olsen

Photo: Sydney Aguirre in "Kid-Thing." Credit: Sundance Film Festival

Sundance 2012: A dilemma of ethics, power in 'Compliance'

January 21, 2012 |  1:56 pm

Dreama Walker as Becky in COMPLIANCE Photo by Adam Stone

We all like to think we know how we would respond to certain ethical hypotheticals: that we'd return that wallet, help the weak or stand up to an abusive authority figure. But would we, really?

The film "Compliance," which had its world premiere Saturday morning as part of Sundance's low-budget NEXT section, hinges on just such a question, wringing a tense moral drama from a simple phone call. On a busy day at a suburban fast-food outlet, a phone call comes for the manager (Ann Dowd) telling her there has been an accusation of theft against one of her employees. The voice on the line (Pat Healy) identifies himself as a police officer and instructs the manager to take a young female employee (Dreama Walker) into a back room. After a time the girl is undressed and doing jumping jacks, all at the command of the officer on the phone, before things take a turn from the humiliating to genuinely hurtful. No one ever just hangs up.

The story is based on true events, which writer-director Craig Zobel read about in a newspaper. Zobel's previous feature, "Great World of Sound," premiered at Sundance in 2007, starring Healy as the reluctant employee of a fly-by-night record label, with Zobel shooting people who thought they were auditioning for a music deal. "Compliance" is in some ways the mirror-image of "Great World."

Photos: The scene at Sundance 2012

"It's definitely a story with the exact same question," said Zobel of both films central "what would you do" concern. "I guess I do have some attraction to those types of stories. I think that they make for interesting characters on both sides of the coin."

If Zobel intended "Compliance" as an answer film to criticism he received for the fake auditions he used in making "Great World of Sound" -- making a case that he never forced those people to sing for his camera -- he says it wasn't a conscious intention. "It took other people to point that out," he noted.

"To be honest, I'd like to be the brash filmmaker that was putting everyone in their place, but it was really that I'm interested in the way that we make these kinds of decisions," Zobel said. "I wish I was that Lars von Trier guy and that I was doing it all on purpose."

"I find a lot of sympathy for what's happening, I relate to and can see how people get into situations like in this movie or in 'Great World of Sound,' " he added. "And the fact that people rationalize that they're not doing anything bad. But everybody is."

For a film based largely on a phone call, Zobel had a set built that put two locations physically separate in the story side-by-side in a warehouse so that both parts of the conversation could be shot simultaneously with multiple cameras. This also allowed the actors to perform longer takes, really settling into the tense dynamic of the story. "In retrospect I can't imagine doing it another way," Zobel said.

Actress Walker was cast in the film after she shot a small role in David Gordon Green's recent film "The Sitter." Green, an executive producer on "Compliance," mentioned the project to her and she immediately recalled the news stories about the real-life series of events on which the film is based.

"I remember thinking about the girl, who would go through with all that?" Walker said. "How awful that poor girl must feel for going through something like that and then having people be like, 'You're such an idiot, how could you go through with all that?' "

"My whole thing for playing the character was that she wasn't an idiot," she added. "She was just really young, very naive and was in these high-stakes circumstances where she thought she was going to lose her job if she didn't do as she was told. We all think we would react in a certain way, react boldly. Sometimes that's not really the case at all."


Sundance 2012: False start for 'Red Lights'

Sundance 2012: 'Beasts' sparks a flood of strong reaction

Indie Focus: 'Nobody Walks' is a big step for Ry Russo-Young

-- Mark Olsen


Photo: Dreama Walker in "Compliance." Credit: Adam Stone



Sundance: Rashida Jones does romantic dramedy in 'Celeste and Jesse Forever'

January 19, 2012 |  8:35 pm

Celeste and Jesse Forever

It may be easiest to describe “Celeste and Jesse Forever” in terms of what it might be but is not. Is it a broad, female-centric comedy à la “Bridesmaids”? Kind of, not quite. How about a tender breakup tale/love letter to Los Angeles' Los Feliz and Silver Lake neighborhoods that recalls “(500) Days of Summer”? Sort of, but not really.

Audiences will get their first idea of what “Celeste and Jesse Forever” really is when the film premieres Friday night at the Sundance Film Festival, where it has been marked by many as one of the hotter titles available for acquisition going into the fest.

Starring, co-written and executive produced by Rashida Jones from NBC's “Parks and Recreation,” the film follows a creative-class Angeleno couple on the cusp of divorce. Celeste (Jones) and Jesse (Andy Samberg) were high school sweethearts, and as much as they have grown up together, they now find they are growing apart but struggling to fully break from each other. (That Jesse is living in their back house probably doesn’t help.)

Directed by Lee Toland Krieger, whose caustic “The Vicious Kind” premiered at Sundance in 2009, “Celeste and Jesse” is neither a full-on comedy nor a total downer drama. Rather, the film looks to craft a delicate and difficult blend of genres, mixing laughs with a genuine emotional currency underlined by a vibrant sense of immediacy.

Photos: The scene at Sundance 2012

“We’re obsessed with ‘Broadcast News,’ ‘When Harry Met Sally,’ the things that did the impossible of striking a balance between humor and emotion,” said Jones while sitting with co-writer and fellow executive producer Will McCormack recently during a break from making finishing touches on the film.

“We wanted to allow the comedy to come out of a real place,” said McCormack, who also plays an unexpectedly wise pot dealer in the film. “All of the things we do in a breakup and how painful heartbreak is and how funny it can be in retrospect. I always think life is funny enough.”

The pair first met in the late ’90s after Jones made a film with McCormack’s sister, actress Mary McCormack; they dated for three weeks and have been friends ever since. “Celeste and Jesse” is the first finished screenplay by either; they wrote the film side by side on Jones’ couch, handing a laptop back and forth.

Continue reading »

Anna Paquin on the unlikely resurrection of 'Margaret'

January 13, 2012 | 11:14 am


When Kenneth Lonergan's "Margaret" was quietly released last September, it seemed the end of a very, very long journey for a film caught up for years in post-production problems and various legal disputes. Although very few people saw the movie during its brief theatrical run, a vocal group of critics began to lobby on its behalf -- the unusual groundswell of support prompted in part by the year-end awards season crush and in part by a desire to simply be able to see a movie that had not played in their towns.

"Margaret" has since been inching its way toward reassessment and in some sense resurrection, to the point where there is now an undercurrent of backlash from those who feel its movie-you-can't-see mystique is too much a part of its appeal.

In the film, Anna Paquin plays an Upper East Side teenager named Lisa Cohen -- in one of the movie's signature quirks, "Margaret" has no character named Margaret -- who feels in part responsible for a bus accident that claimed a woman's life. This leads to a portrait, at once nuanced and raw, of dealing with grief and moving forward with life. The film features a deep bench of supporting performances from Matt Damon, Mark Ruffalo, Jean Reno, Allison Janney, J. Smith-Cameron, Matthew Broderick, Kieran Culkin and Jeannie Berlin.

"Margaret" is going to be playing for one week at the Cinefamily in Los Angeles starting Jan. 27, giving local audience another chance to see for themselves whether this most singular film lives up to its legend. Paquin, an Oscar winner and now the star of HBO's "True Blood," rather suddenly made herself available to a few press outlets just this week to talk about the film.

How weird is it to be talking about a film you shot in 2005?

I could not possibly have loved that script or loved doing that movie any more. It was one of the most incredible professional experiences I've ever had, and, you know, movies all have their own path to being seen by people and some of them are long journeys and some are really quick. And this one's just been a bit longer. I'm just pleased that people are watching it now.

When you were shooting the film did you have any idea it would become the problem child it turned into?

No, actually. The shoot was extraordinarily smooth. Everything kind of ran perfectly. It was a sort of long script, so obviously if you shoot all of a very long script there's just going to be a lot more material to play around with when you're trying to put the movie together. Which ultimately, as an actor, is not something that I really worry myself about. That's kind of, thankfully, somebody else's department. I'm just like sweet, I will shoot all one-hundred and sixty, seventy, whatever-it-was pages of incredibly well-written, beautiful scenes with incredible character work.

Did you ever reach a point where you thought the movie would just never come out?

Continue reading »

Around Town: 'Battle Royale' finally gets U.S. theatrical release

December 23, 2011 | 11:55 am

Battle Royale

A group of teenage schoolkids is deposited on a deserted island for the express purpose of killing one another in the hope of individual self-preservation. That might sound awfully similar to the plot of the upcoming "Hunger Games" movie due out in the spring, but it's actually the description for "Battle Royale," the 2000 Japanese film that has become one of the essential cult movies of the new millennium.

Incredibly, the film is getting its first U.S. theatrical run starting Saturday at the Cinefamily at the Silent Movie Theatre. (Consider it holiday season stress release viewing.)

The film was the last completed work by the then seventysomething director Kinji Fukasaku, known to American audiences for his work on the WWII aerial dogfight action picture "Tora! Tora! Tora!" Even directors half his age would be hard-pressed to match the go-for-broke energy in "Battle Royale," adapted by Kenta Fukasaku (the director's son) from a novel by Koushun Takami, with its extremely violent, wildly funny and totally bonkers sensibility. (Kinji Fukasaku passed away in 2003 while working on a sequel.)

Actress Chiaki Kuriyama would again don a schoolgirl outfit to play the brutal killer Gogo Yubari in "Kill Bill: Vol. 1" made by Quentin Tarantino, an avowed "BR" fan. Iconic Japanese actor and director Takeshi Kitano fuels the film's satiric undercurrents with his typical laid-back intensity.

"BR" is widely available on DVD, but this is a rare chance to see the film in a theater. As extra enticement, there will be a special "cosplay" screening of the film on the 30th, with discount tickets to those who arrive in costume, so break out the school blazers, knee socks and odd track suit.

The film plays through Jan. 2. For more info, visit www.cinefamily.org.


Around Town: Don Hertzfeldt kicks of Cinefamily's 'Animation Breakdown'

Takashi Miike enters the samurai genre with "13 Assassins"

-- Mark Olsen


Photo: "Battle Royale." Credit: Toei Co.



Around Town: Don Hertzfeldt kicks off Cinefamily's 'Animation Breakdown'

December 2, 2011 |  1:01 pm


Beautifulday-02 (2)

Who shows up to watch a program of independently made, unconventional animated short films well past midnight? Quite a few people, as it turns out. Thursday night marked the opening of the Cinefamily's Animation Breakdown festival, and a healthy audience turned out for the 12:35 a.m. show, with filmmaker Don Hertzfeldt following his two sold-out shows earlier in the evening.

The program of shorts by Hertzfeldt included the local premiere of his "It's Such a Beautiful Day," the third and final film in his popular series on the adventures of a character named BIll. Hertzfeldt's unique animating style, which combines traditional animation with optical effects and, more recently, digital work, is singular for both its visual style and its emotional mix of innocent whimsy and cynically downbeat humor.

Hertzfeldt was nominated for an Academy Award in 2001 for his short film "Rejected" and received a Lifetime Achievement Award from the San Francisco International Film Festival in 2010 at only the age of 33. Onstage Thursday in Los Angeles during one of his three Q&As, Hertzfeldt noted that though he studied live-action filmmaking at college in Santa Barbara, he had never taken an animation class and took only one art class in high school.

"I still feel like a live-action filmmaker who happens to draw, rather than an animator," Hertzfeldt explained.

The Animation Breakdown series continues through Tuesday with a varied mix of programs. Friday night will feature the first in a series of programs of classic Polish animation along with a screen of the Brothers Quay's "Maska." There also will be a series of films curated by the East Coast-based Animation Block Party (co-presenters of the fest with Cinefamily and Cartoon Brew) that includes new work by Spike Jonze.

Saturday will feature a screening of "La Luna," the new short film from Pixar that was just shortlisted for the Oscars, with director Enrico Casarosa in attendance. Also on Saturday will be a reunion of talent behind the cult television show "Space Ghost: Coast to Coast" which will be livestreamed for those who can't make it to the theater.

Sunday will see a tribute to Bruce Bickford, whom Cinefamily programmer Alex McDonald called "America's greatest underground animator," that includes the world premiere of the 20-plus years in the making "Cas'l" with live musical accompaniment. There is also an exhibition of Bickford's artwork at Synchronicity Space along with work from other animators featured in the festival.

For anyone who believes in animated filmmaking as more than just a platform to promote products for kids, the Cinefamily's Animation Breakdown, planned to become an annual event, should provide a wild and wonderful haven.


Indie Focus: Bill Plympton and Animation for Grown-Ups

Around Town: Strange Delights at Cinefamily's Everything Is Festival

-- Mark Olsen


Photo: "It's Such a Beautiful Day." Credit: Don Hertzfeldt


'Dog Sweat': Underground filmmaking in Iran

November 18, 2011 |  2:14 pm

'Dog Sweat' scene Iran film

Iranian cinema has been much in the news of late, though far too often for legal and bureaucratic entanglements involving directors working in the country rather than for the films themselves. Abbas Kiarostami, arguably Iran's best-known filmmaker internationally, has taken to making movies outside the country. Jafar Panahi, facing a prison term and ban from travel, interviews and filmmaking, recently created the dazzling, inside-out "This Is Not a Film" as an act of creativity and protest. Asghar Farhadi's "A Separation" is considered among the front-runners for this year's foreign-language Oscar.

The film "Dog Sweat," directed and co-written by Hossein Keshavarz, was made within Iran but without the official permits and censorship approval normally given to films. Made in a guerrilla, underground style, its interweaving stories look to capture the small, everyday rebellions that make up life in Iran, such as trying to have a drink, steal time with a lover, follow your own path and simply be yourself. "Dog Sweat" — the name refers to local bootleg liquor — earned Keshavarz a Spirit Award nomination and opened Friday in Los Angeles at the Music Hall.

"It's not hard making a film through official channels, but then you have to go through the censorship board," said Keshavarz, 34.

Keshavarz, who has both Iranian and U.S. passports and went to Columbia University's film school, was planning to make a movie titled "This Modern Love" in Iran with permits when his mother was in a car accident. Once he helped her back to good health, he found the political climate changing in the build-up to the 2009 elections, and his plans were adjusted accordingly.

"Things were more open and there was a space to make films that were about social topics in an artistic way," said Keshavarz, "but as things got restricted more and more, it was very hard to do in a way that felt honest, up to the point where a lot of young filmmakers would just make short films they knew would never be shown."

Keshavarz's sister Maryam Keshavarz made the film "Circumstance," which won a prize at this year's Sundance Film Festival. The two each helped out on the production of the other's film, with Maryam opting to shoot in Lebanon rather than deal with the difficulties she had seen her brother go through.

Hossein Keshavarz is a bit cagey as to the specifics of how he pulled off his shoot without interference, though he acknowledges that it took about 30 actual shooting days over many, many months. He has not tried to return to Iran since "Dog Sweat" began appearing on the festival circuit, and he somewhat coyly added that "I officially don't know" whether or not the film has been seen in Iran.

"The film hopefully is evenhanded," he added. "Even though it has politics in it, I think the thing I'm trying to get at is these very human people looking for a connection. In living their everyday lives, sometimes there's politics, but it's not like I want to make a political point. I'm trying to make a film. I want to make a point about how people live and how political things come into it." 


Young Iran seen through '"Circumstance" and its cosmopolitan crew

Abbas Kiarostami returns to narrative form with "Certified Copy"

— Mark Olsen


Photo: A scene from Hossein Keshavarz's "Dog Sweat." Photo credit: IndiePix.

Around Town: Rooftop Films comes to L.A. with free screening

November 17, 2011 | 12:19 pm

Emilia Zoryan and Parker Croft in 'Falling Overnight'

Getting Los Angeles audiences out to see independent films, especially those from fledgling filmmakers without big-name stars, is a notoriously difficult proposition. Yet one group that has found success in New York doing just that now hopes to translate its efforts to the West Coast.

Rooftop Films will put on its first event in Los Angeles on Thursday night at the Andaz West Hollywood with a screening of the film "Falling Overnight."

The nonprofit organization recently wrapped its 15th season of outdoor film screenings in New York City with some 48 events staged at various venues. The group previously has set up events in other cities, and program director Dan Nuxoll described Thursday's one-off event in L.A. as a way for the Rooftop Films to "get our foot in the water" for future screenings in town. 

"L.A. seems like a natural fit. You guys have some great outdoor events," said Nuxoll, making specific reference to the Cinespia series at Hollywood Forever Cemetery, "but it seems to me there's a lot more room for outdoor events in L.A., especially stuff that's a little more indie than some of the other events."

"Falling Overnight," which screened in New York as part of Rooftop Films' Summer Series, tells the story of an L.A. twentysomething (Parker Croft) who is about to have brain surgery. On the eve of the procedure, he meets a young photographer (Emilia Zoryan), and the two spend the night covering the city. The film marks the feature debut for director Conrad Jackson, who also co-wrote the screenplay and served as the movie's cinematographer, editor and executive producer.

The event at the Andaz will not technically be outdoors, but the screening will be in an event space on the roof of the hotel that looks down over the Sunset Strip, giving this L.A. film an added dimension.

"I think showing the film with a view in the background of Los Angeles, it always changes the way people appreciate the film," Nuxoll said. "That's something that we always strive to do whenever we do our screenings. Whenever we can, we want the location to augment the experiences of watching the movie in that place, so there's a little bit of of a dialogue between the location and the film itself. It sort of changes the way you look at your city, it changes the way you look at the film."

As Rooftop Films begins to put on events in Los Angeles it will face the typical challenge of building an audience here. Some of this summer's screenings in NYC drew crowds ranging in size from 1,000 to 1,500 people, but it will likely take some time to reach anywhere near those kinds of numbers in L.A.

"Our mission is to help these films and advance these filmmakers," Nuxoll said. "It's not just in Los Angeles that indie films have trouble breaking in — indie films still have trouble breaking into the market anywhere in America. So our mission isn't just to expand in Los Angeles but to get these films out there in any way we possibly can. And of course Los Angeles is a hugely influential market and anything we can do to push forward these films we really believe in, we think it's our mission to look into what we can do."

Doors open at 7 p.m. with the screening starting at 7:30 p.m. to be followed by a Q&A and reception. The event is free with RSVP,though seating is limited. Visit the Rooftop Films website for more information. 


Movies al fresco

Arthouse films find a colder welcome in L.A.

— Mark Olsen


Photo: Emilia Zoryan and Parker Croft in 'Falling Overnight.' Credit: Rooftop Films

AFI Fest 2011: The literate anxieties of 'The Color Wheel'

November 4, 2011 | 12:54 pm


If the film media have been abuzz over the unusual brother-sister dynamic in the upcoming "Shame" or the resolutely incorrigible main character of the new "Young Adult," wait until local audiences get a look at the odd match-up of gratingly abrasive people in Alex Ross Perry's "The Color Wheel." The young critic Ignatiy Vishnevetsky, tapped by Roger Ebert for his revived "At the Movies," declared the film "the cinema of the future, I hope."

In the film, Colin (Perry) receives a call from his semi-estranged sister, J.R. (Carlen Altman), asking for a favor. Soon they set out on a wayward road trip to pick up her stuff from the apartment she had been sharing with a former professor. Along the way one bad interaction with other people leads to another, and soon the pair realize that, as much as they can't stand each other, they can't stand everybody else even more.

This ruefully acid-dipped send-up of the indie family comedy plays Saturday and Monday as part of AFI Fest. It will also screen on the UCLA campus on Tuesday as a double bill with Perry's first feature, 2009's "Impolex." (I will be moderating a Q&A with Perry at the UCLA event. It's free!)

"In a perfect world, I'd like to be able to hook people in and get people who are interested in a slightly transgressive film that's not a goofy, silly road-trip comedy," said Perry, 27, from his apartment in Brooklyn, "but I'd also like to hook people in who think they're going to get a very familiar, standard type of thing and sucker-punch them with something that they are not prepared for and are not prepared to be comfortable with."

The film, shot in shimmery 16-millimeter black-and-white by the talented cinematographer Sean Price Williams, takes place in a series of timeless diners and motels, an offbeat Americana still found off local highways. As the siblings bicker and banter, they reveal themselves as self-centered and snobbish but also surprisingly tender and sensitive toward each other despite their differences. Perry and Altman display a chemistry that could presumably not be faked, seeming to grow increasingly annoyed with each other.

"It's not not part of it," said Perry of whether the pair, who share screenplay credit, actually made each other a little nuts. "There was a specific set of sensibilities that we could come together on and a certain type of awkward comedy that we had together. If nothing else, it makes the characters seem like they do have a history together. And that works, ultimately."

"I guess we did drive each other crazy," added Altman, 28, in a separate phone call from elsewhere in Brooklyn, "in that we were just really anxious about getting it done. It did kind of feel like he was becoming my brother during the process. It felt like a bickering relationship, but it was a means to an end. I accepted that the process was kind of stressful."

Where Perry's "Impolex" was directly influenced by the Thomas Pynchon novel "Gravity's Rainbow" — "It's my book report on what scenes in a certain novel mean to me," he explained — for "The Color Wheel" he extrapolates the oeuvre of Philip Roth, looking to capture the same sense of literate sexual frustration and articulated anxieties. (Perry even commissioned a graphic designer to create a typeface for the credits and poster based on the covers of early editions of Roth's novels.)

At a time when movie-making is coping with technological changes and new developments at all levels, there is something radical about a young filmmaker choosing to shoot on film and making cinema as a response to literature.

"Both times I was reading a book and thought, 'I haven't really seen a movie that feels like this,' " Perry explained. "And that was as good a starting point as any. Roth's books are hilarious, first and foremost as comedy, and they are incredibly sad and very depressing. They are full of powerfully written language, beautiful monologues and internal monologues and conversations between people that are devastating, full of titillating, risque elements that are kind of exciting.

"I can't really think of a movie that has all of these things. It was interesting to say, I would like to watch that movie."


The Cheat Sheet: AFI Film Festival 2011

AFI Fest will screen cream of other film festivals

AFI Fest to spotlight Joe Swanberg, indie film director

— Mark Olsen


Photo: Alex Ross Perry and Carlen Altman in "The Color Wheel." Courtesy of AFI Fest.


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