Interview with Filmmaker Samuel Douek (JUS + LIKE ME)

JUS + LIKE ME was the winner of BEST FILM at the March 2020 LGBT Film Festival in Los Angeles.

Matthew Toffolo: What motivated you to make this film?

Samuel Douek: Tom Falck the producer approached me about making a film about Phil Dzwonkiewicz, the HIV activist who was competing in Mr Gay UK 2018 and was starting an HIV awareness campaign in a new era of complacency around AIDS given the rise in anti-retroviral treatment and it was an opportunity i couldn’t refuse combining my background in documentary filmmaking and my investment in the LGBTQ+ community.

2. From the idea to the finished product, how long did it take for you to make this short?

I first met Phil and conducted several amazing interviews in late August. We then planned a 4 day shoot across three weekend in September / October where we would travel to his family home on the coast, see him in action volunteering, and counting down to the deadline of hosting a panel discussion and a fundraising event where he would launch his campaign. We went straight into the edit throughout November and the film premiered on World Aids Day on 1st December 2018

3. How would you describe your short film in two words!?

HIV Awareness

4. What was the biggest obstacle you faced in completing this film?

Wanting to sensitively capture someone’s personal experience of contracting and living with HIV without victimising them. We have come along was since the panic of the early 80s AIDS epidemic and life expectancy of people living with the virus is the same as anyone else. It was important for me for this not to be a film that induces pity but one that empowers and supports the HIV community.

5. What were your initial reactions when watching the audience talking about your film in the feedback video?

It was emotional for me to see the feedback video! Especially watching people across the pond. It’s heartwarming to know that people can engage with the story internationally and that everyone can empathise with Phil’s experience.

Watch the Audience FEEDBACK Video:

6. How did you come up with the idea for this short film?

Tom Falck the producer was the initial brain behind the idea but was very supportive of my ideas. For me, i wanted this to be a docu-fantasy, blurring the lines between real life and performance. Phil is a dancer and dance became a central visual theme that helped capture the emotion of the story.

7. What film have you seen the most in your life?

I’ve watched Terry Gilliam’s Brazil about 7000 times.

8. You submitted to the festival via FilmFreeway, what are you feelings of the submission platform from a filmmaker’s perspective?

It’s a fantastic platform. Filmmaking is such a time consuming process and to have every festival in one place makes submitting to various events easy!

9. What song have you listened to the most times in your life?

According to Spotify, Ariana Grande – God is a Woman

10. What is next for you? A new film?

I have just finished another short docu-fantay called STONEWALL 2069 that looks 50 years into forward to ask what will the queer future look like? It was made in honour of the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall Riots and will come out on BBC iplayer soon! I am also working on a bunch of music videos and my first narrative short which is a dark LGBTQ+ comedy.

Interview with Filmmaker Daniel John Harris (NOW AND NOT YET)

NOW AND NOT YET was the winner of BEST FILM at the November 2019 Chicago FEEDBACK Film Festival.

Matthew Toffolo: WHAT MOTIVATED YOU TO MAKE THIS FILM?

Daniel John Harris: When thinking about what to do for my next short film, there were a lot of ideas swirling around my head. A lot of non-starters, though.
To clear out the noise, I thought about doing something that I felt
was important. Gun violence and some of the myths surrounding gun
culture came first. It’s hard not tho think about that when
mass-shootings make the news almost every day. It’s sad to think about
it, but I fear this short will be relevant for some time. Hopefully,
though, it won’t.

2. FROM THE IDEA TO THE FINISHED PRODUCT, HOW LONG DID IT TAKE FOR YOU
TO MAKE THIS SHORT?

I do most of my writing in my head while running, so I hopped on a
treadmill and when I got off 45 minutes later, I had the story ironed
out. It was written quickly, shared, re-written after my partners
weighed in on their thoughts, and we shot it 6 weeks later in one
night. Another 6 weeks after that, the movie was completely finished.
So, start to finish it came about very, very quickly.

3. HOW WOULD YOU DESCRIBE YOUR SHORT FILM IN TWO WORDS!?

Harsh reality.

4. WHAT WAS THE BIGGEST OBSTACLE YOU FACED IN COMPLETING THIS FILM?

Surprisingly, we didn’t hit any major obstacles. The only thing that
sticks out was casting. Upon writing the script I knew who I wanted to
play for most of the parts, but I didn’t have anyone for the lead. We
held auditions, and thankfully we found Bryson. I cannot understate
how luck we were to book him. He is amazingly talented and has the
audience in his grasp from minute one. It’s hard to think the movie
would be as good without him.

5. WHAT WERE YOUR INITIAL REACTIONS WHEN WATCHING THE AUDIENCE TALKING
ABOUT YOUR FILM IN THE FEEDBACK VIDEO?

What’s great about the Feedback Festival is that the audience doesn’t
know the filmmakers are there. It isn’t like a normal film festival
Q&A where the filmmakers are dragged up front. They are hidden, in the
crowd, and I think this results in the audience responding more
freely. This is mildly terrifying, because the responses won’t be
watered down with a sense of politeness. They are going to be more
honest, more harsh, thinking the filmmakers aren’t there. Fortunately
for me, the audience responded positively. They understood the movie’s
themes and had wonderful insight. I felt a lot better when it was
done!

Watch the Audience FEEDBACK Video:

6. HOW DID YOU COME UP WITH THE IDEA FOR THIS SHORT FILM?

Motivation aside, I knew I could only make a movie with the resources
on hand. I started with the location. I’d known the owner of the
corner store for some time and was confident we could book it. Then I
started to think about certain actors I’d been dying to work with
(Caitlin and John), and how they would best fit. Everything flowed
from there. So essentially it was a combination of theme and
resources.

7. WHAT FILM HAVE YOU SEEN THE MOST IN YOUR LIFE?

Probably Star Wars. I’ve been watching that pretty regularly since I
was 4.

8. YOU SUBMITTED TO THE FESTIVAL VIA FILMFREEWAY, WHAT ARE YOU
FEELINGS OF THE SUBMISSION PLATFORM FROM A FILMMAKER'S
PERSPECTIVE?

I’m a big fan of Film Freeway. It does a lot of the heavy lifting and
makes finding and submitting to festivals extremely easy.

9. WHAT SONG HAVE YOU LISTENED TO THE MOST TIMES IN YOUR LIFE?

Oh, it’s a tie between any number of Springsteen’s songs.

10. WHAT IS NEXT FOR YOU? A NEW FILM?

I’m currently editing a short film that shot by my long-time
cinematographer Chris Murphy, called _Unclaimed_, directed by TW
Miller. It’s my first time editing a fictional narrative that I didn’t
also direct, so it will be fun. There are a few scripts, including a
feature, idling on the runway, so we’ll see if any of them take off.

Interview with Filmmaker Melissa Lane (SEX + ICE CREAM)

SEX + ICE CREAM played to rave reviews at the February 2020 Chicago Feedback Film Festival.

Matthew Toffolo: What motivated you to make this film?

Melissa Lane: I’ve always loved making short documentaries. So I knew I wanted to find a really interesting person to profile for my next project. I found Nicole on Instagram and initially fell in love with her aesthetic. But I officially decided to make a documentary about her after I realized how open she was about dealing with struggles in her life as well as mental health. She exuded so much joy and vulnerability simultaneously and that was really intriguing for me as a person and as a filmmaker.

2. From the idea to the finished product, how long did it take for you to make this short?

It took about a full week to shoot. But it took about a year to edit. I was really struggling with how to make the story and the visuals flow in such a short amount of time. I had to step away from the project for a few months because I was getting so in my own head about it. I went through about 23 different versions of the edit before everything fell into place.

3. How would you describe your short film in two words!?

Colorful acceptance!

4. What was the biggest obstacle you faced in completing this film?

There were a lot of other interesting aspects to Nicole’s story. I had a really hard time deciding what would make the final film and what had to be cut. She just had so many amazing things to say and so many other challenges she’s faced in her life and I wanted to include them all. But in the end you have to decide what’s going to help progress the story versus what’s going get in the way.

5. What were your initial reactions when watching the audience talking about your film in the feedback video?

I was really happy that people felt like they could relate to the story. I thought it was really funny that people wanted it to be longer since I had stressed out so much about trying to keep it super short.

Watch the Audience FEEDBACK Video:

6. How did you come up with the idea for this short film?

The opening sequence with all the food really just came to me all at once. I think that was the strongest vision I had for any of the setups. The rest of it just came from getting to know Nicole and letting her story guide the direction of the film.

7. What film have you seen the most in your life?

Hmmmm…. Probably “Frances Ha”

8. You submitted to the festival via FilmFreeway, what are you feelings of the submission platform from a filmmaker’s perspective?

I thought it was extremely easy. It’s really nice to have all of my assets and submissions organized in one place.

9. What song have you listened to the most times in your life?

I guess it would be “Banshee Beat” by Animal Collective

10. What is next for you? A new film?

I know this seems random given how fun and colorful Sex + Ice Cream was, but I really love horror film. So it would be cool to make a short horror film some time soon. I also want to start focusing more on my film photography, since a lot of my directing style is inspired by the photos I take.

Interview with Filmmaker Frank Schlichting (Undermine Beneath Canada’s Ghost Towns)

Undermine Beneath Canada’s Ghost Towns was the winner of BEST DOC CHARACTER at the March 2020 Documentary Film Festival in Toronto.

Matthew Toffolo: What motivated you to make this film?

Frank Schlichting: It was made to promote what I was doing to get on TV

2. From the idea to the finished product, how long did it take for you to make this short?

Some of it was from videos I had made on YouTube so several years.

3. How would you describe your short film in two words!?

Crazy steep!

4. What was the biggest obstacle you faced in completing this film?

Computers and bureaucracy

5. What were your initial reactions when watching the audience talking about your film in the feedback video?

I thought it was awesome that I could show people thousands of miles away what it was like underground in an abandoned mine.

6. How did you come up with the idea for this short film?

Telus had the contest to make the film so I worked hard to get the funding and basically the film was just an upscale version of what I was doing on YouTube.

7. What film have you seen the most in your life?

Apocalypse Now

9. What song have you listened to the most times in your life?

The theme from my YouTube channel we used in the first few years. Into the darkness

10. What is next for you? A new film?

No I will continue with the YouTube. Of course there is always the chance that the phone will ring someday and some producer asks me to do a project with him. That was the idea of making the film in the first place.

Interview with Filmmaker Kev L. Smith (Taobh Le Taobh)

Taobh Le Taobh played to rave reviews at the February 2020 DOCUMENTARY Short Film Festival in Toronto.

Matthew Toffolo: What motivated you to make this film?

Kev L. Smith: My next door neighbor, is the artist you see in this film & I really wanted to show what inspired him to create his artworks.

2. From the idea to the finished product, how long did it take for you to make this short?

1 year

3. How would you describe your short film in two words!?

Two worlds

4. What was the biggest obstacle you faced in completing this film?

Finding the time to get it finished

5. What were your initial reactions when watching the audience talking about your film in the feedback video?

It was cool to see how people interpreted the ideas we worked on in the film.

Watch the Audience FEEDBACK Video:

6. How did you come up with the idea for this short film?

I wanted to try & represent how a landscape inspires an artist to create his work .

7. What film have you seen the most in your life?

Litmus – It is a surf film by Adrew Kindfilm – http://www.andrewkidman.com/film/litmus-1996/

8. You submitted to the festival via FilmFreeway, what are you feelings of the submission platform from a filmmaker’s perspective?

It is a very convenient way to show finished work.

9. What song have you listened to the most times in your life?

Pale blue eyes – The velvet underground

10. What is next for you? A new film?

I am currently working on a photo book based on a project I did for a year in 2018 , where I took a picture of the same view of the cliffs of moher for a year. – http://www.kevlsmith.com/daily-cliffs

Interview with Filmmaker Steve Buckwalter (OMA & OPA)

OMA & OPA was the winner of BEST DOC CHARACTERS at the February 2020 DOCUMENTARY Festival in Toronto.

Matthew Toffolo: What motivated you to make this film?

Steve Buckwalter: Oma and Opa are the grandparents of one of my coworkers, and we had used their house as a location for a different film that we had made the previous Christmas. The first time that I met them, Oma gave me a gigantic hug and a sloppy kiss on my cheek. Then I walked over to Opa, with one hand in my pocket as I often do, and extended my hand to shake his, and he said, “Don’t you know it’s rude to have your hand in your pocket when you greet someone?” He wasn’t joking! Anyway, it was a memorable experience, and they both made an impression. Then, a few months later, we were making a decision about purchasing a new camera, and I prefer to always test cameras on something real, but not critical, so I asked my coworker, Lisbet Beiler, if we could interview them and just get their story recorded, because from the bits and pieces I had heard, it was very interesting. So, after talking it over with them, and sort of over their objections, we went over and sat with them and recorded the interview. Opa was very confused by why on earth anyone would be interested in his story, and Oma said that she wouldn’t be able to think of anything to say, and then proceeded to talk for several hours.

2. From the idea to the finished product, how long did it take for you to make this short?

I think, roughly about six months. We shot for one day in the winter, and I spent several months adjusting the edit, and decided that it was too Opa heavy, so we went back in the spring a filmed for an afternoon with Oma.

3. How would you describe your short film in two words!?

Funny and Cute.

4. What was the biggest obstacle you faced in completing this film?

The two biggest obstacles were probably initially getting them to agree to it, although Lisbet did most of the convincing, and then trying to work out the rhythm of the story. There was a lot of their story that I left on the cutting room floor, in a lot of ways because I didn’t have the material to show along with it, but I spent a long time massaging the beats that I had, and made a big cut very close to the end, that after agonizing over it for a long time, now I can’t remember what it was about.

5. What were your initial reactions when watching the audience talking about your film in the feedback video?

I was heartened to hear that people really fell in love with them, that was what I most wanted to do, was for people to feel the same way about Oma and Opa as I do. Secondly, it was great hearing some critical feedback that was constructive.

Watch the Audience FEEDBACK Video:

6. How did you come up with the idea for this short film?

I’ve been doing these kinds of profiles of people for different clients for almost my entire career, so I’m very familiar with the rhythms and beats of how they work. I’ve done most of them as a shooter and editor, so I don’t have a ton of experience conducting interviews, but I’ve been around lots of good people who have, so I wasn’t terribly nervous about that. This was definitely more biographical most of the ones I had done before, and my big concern was to not do something that just started at the beginning and went to the end. I wanted to link all of these different stories in an unusual and more interesting way. I also wanted to do some things differently stylistically, both with the interview setup, and then also with the editing. I knew it wasn’t going to be in everyone’s taste to do the jump cutting in the interviews, but I wanted to just push beyond what I would normally do in an edit.

7. What film have you seen the most in your life?

I don’t know that I will ever be able to catch up to the number of times I watched Alfred Hitchcock’s Vertigo when I was in my early 20’s.

8. You submitted to the festival via FilmFreeway, what are you feelings of the submission platform from a filmmaker’s perspective?

It’s been great, very easy to use, and very easy to spend a lot of money on :/

9. What song have you listened to the most times in your life?

Probably Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 20, partly because I really enjoy it, and partly because I have often used it to put me to sleep.

10. What is next for you? A new film?

I made two films in the same year, and shot and edited several others for other people, but since the fall have had a little trouble getting another one off the ground. I had one short come close, but we bailed on our shooting dates after being unable to cast it the way we hoped to. Then we were just starting pre-pro on a short feature when the coronavirus shutdown hit, and I’m not sure that our funding will survive the moment. However the company I work for, MAKE Films, is committed to transitioning to more original content and less client work, and we have one documentary series (that I shot) almost completed, and several more that we are working on getting funded. And we also have several narrative scripts that we are developing as well. So there’s a lot going on, some of it is near term, and some of it is more of a long term play, so we’ll see what happens!

Interview with Filmmakers Karla Caraballo-Torres & Lorin Eleni Gill (SCHOOL CROSSING)

SCHOOL CROSSING was the winner of BEST FILM at the February 2020 Documentary Film Festival in Toronto.

Matthew Toffolo: What motivated you to make this film?

Karla Caraballo-Torres & Lorin Eleni Gill: We were inspired to make this film because my family (Karla) is originally from Venezuela and I had been hearing many stories from family members experiencing the crisis firsthand. We started researching for a story that went beyond the headlines and showed the true human impact of this economic and politic crisis. When we came across this case of children crossing the border to go to school, we thought it was a perfect example of how the crisis was effecting people’s everyday lives in a unique way that hadn’t received much coverage.

2. From the idea to the finished product, how long did it take for you to make this short?

We started doing research in early December 2018 as part of our graduate thesis project and finished the film in early May of 2019, so roughly 6 months.

3. How would you describe your short film in two words!?

Underreported reality.

4. What was the biggest obstacle you faced in completing this film?

The biggest obstacle was that we had to plan everything ahead of time before traveling to Colombia. We were unable to interview or confirm any interviews ahead of time. We had to land, start looking for characters and shoot everything all within the 10 day period we had on the ground.

5. What were your initial reactions when watching the audience talking about your film in the feedback video?

It was really exciting to watch the audience reactions and hear what they liked about the film. We really just wanted to raise awareness about the humanitarian crisis in Venezuela and the struggles these families are facing so it was great to hear that people identified with our characters and learned something by watching our film.

Watch the Audience FEEDBACK Video:

6. How did you come up with the idea for this short film?

We had been extensively researching the humanitarian crisis in Venezuela and came across many articles on the struggles many children in Venezuela faced to access education. We started finding reports that many children were even crossing the border into Colombia to access education and decided we wanted to highlight this aspect of the crisis. Once we arrived in Colombia, the border was officially closed and we found that children were still crossing but at these illegal paths so we decided to focus on their stories.

7. What film have you seen the most in your life?

I have probably seen Bedazzled a thousand times and still find it hilarious every time.

8. You submitted to the festival via FilmFreeway, what are you feelings of the submission platform from a filmmaker’s perspective?

We found it is a great, easy way to find and apply to many great film festivals. Neither of us have much time to do research into festival so it was great to have a centralized platform that allowed us to apply to many film festivals and get our film seen.

9. What song have you listened to the most times in your life?

Pretty much any Shakira song in Spanish, especially a song called Antologia from one of her earliest albums. Eleni-

10. What is next for you? A new film?

Karla is currently working as a video producer at Facebook in San Francisco. Eleni is a reporter for CivilBeat in Hawaii at the frontlines of COVID-19 coverage. We don’t have any concrete plans to make a film as of yet but really hope to be able to work together on a film again in the future!