Talking With ‘Daniel Isn’t Real’ Director Adam Egypt Mortimer About Mania And Horror

Horror films and mental illness have a fraught relationship. Oftentimes mental illness is used as a plot device to create monstrosity and is exploited as an object of fear. Being mentally ill can only lead to violence, or at least it seems that way throughout the history of the genre. However, director Adam Egypt Mortimer created a film that tackles mental illness with more complexity. In his new film, Daniel Isn’t Real, mental illness is a strange demon that seems to latch onto your very soul and manipulate you.

Daniel Isn’t Real follows college student Luke (Miles Robbins) who is dealing with a lot. His mother’s (Mary Stuart Masterson) mental illness is getting worse and he is struggling with making friends in college. He is lost and confused. So he turns to his old imaginary friend Daniel (Patrick Schwarzenegger) for comfort. Daniel, though, is an agent of chaos, spurring Luke into manic and destructive behavior that seems to replace his own mild-mannered disposition. Luke must figure out how to fight back against Daniel and regain a grasp of who he is.

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TIFF ‘19: ‘Sea Fever’ Director Neasa Hardiman and Actor Hermione Corfield Talk Eco Thrillers, Red Heads, and the Use of Body Horror

Sea Fever is a parasitic environmental horror about what waits for us beneath the waves. It follows a PhD candidate Siobhan (Hermione Corfield) who would rather study specimens in a lab rather than interact with people. However, she is sent out on a fishing boat for field research, only to come upon a massive unknown creature. She must help the crew understand the beast and figure out a way to escape its grasp.

Neasa Hardiman, who wrote and directed the film, is known for her work on dramas such as Happy Valley and Jessica Jones. So why did she decide to pivot to the terrifying seas? I was able to speak with her and Corfield during the 2019 Toronto International Film Festival to learn more about Sea Fever and what it was like to research and film on a fishing vessel.

Note: interview has been edited for clarity

Mary Beth McAndrews: I absolutely loved Sea Fever, it is a film very much up my alley. My first question for you, Neasa, is why did you want to do the ocean?

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An Immodest Proposal: Artist Jill Magid on Luis Barragán and Her First Feature Film

Barragan vs Barragán. The former: copyrighted by the Vitra Foundation in Switzerland, overseen by Federica Zanco. The latter: the way that Mexico’s most acclaimed architect—Luis Barragán—spelled his name till his death in 1988. That the accent mark makes such a difference is at the crux of The Proposal, conceptual artist Jill Magid’s debut feature and documentary about her attempts to access the architect’s professional archive.

Part suspense film, part eccentric romance, The Proposal chronicles Magid’s written correspondence with Federica Zanco, culminating in a brazen proposition to move the Barragán archive back to Mexico—a “proposal” as inventive and unorthodox as the architect himself.   

Magid and I spoke on the phone following the debut of The Proposal at the 2018 Tribeca Film Festival. Her film opens in New York Friday, May 24th, at the IFC Center.

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Interview: ‘The Ranger’ Director Jenn Wexler Talks Punk Rock, Final Girls, and Posers

Jenn Wexler’s feature film debut, The Ranger, is a punk rock slasher that pits city-slicker punks against a nature-loving park ranger with a taste for blood. It is a film that emanates beautiful chaos, set to a screaming soundtrack that makes the film feel both timeless and so quintessentially 80s. It is unlike any slasher you’ve seen (read our review). Wexler took the time to speak with me about her first feature film, growing up in the punk rock community, and translating that experience into a horror movie.

The interview has been edited for clarity.

Much Ado About Cinema: Why did you want to make a slasher about punk and punk rock?

Jenn Wexler: So the idea of these punks that go up against this park ranger was originally the idea of my co-writer. We were in college together, we majored in screenwriting, and this was his senior screenplay. We didn’t know what to do with it at the time. But we workshopped all of our ideas in class and I became so attracted to the idea of punks vs a park ranger because just within that there was so much about rebellion versus authority. There’s so much you can do visually with that. Also, when I was a teenager, I used to go to a lot of punk shows. I grew up in this suburban town and I didn’t feel like I fit in at school, but I did feel like I fit in when I went to these shows. I already had this history with that world, so there was always something about this idea that I was attracted to.

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Review and Interview: Dasheng Zheng’s ‘Bangzi Melody’

During an Q&A for Dasheng Zheng’s funny and deeply concerned film about a rural community during the early 1980’s, an audience member asks if the film did well in China. The director sorrily negates the question. There is a palpable sense of urgency when he talks about his project, which has went under the festival radar of many critics and thus lost any chance to be put into a bigger circles of discussion. Later I speak to him outside, he draws on a cigarette and blows the smoke into the starry sky above. I ask him, who he’d like to see the film.

“For a young generation in China…they don’t know what happened before. They don’t know enough. And they are too detached from these topics, there are too many distractions. If we don’t know enough, we don’t have the opportunity to think. First we need to know, then we might have an opportunity to think it over. For the future.”

In the tradition of many filmmakers, Zheng is raging against the cold threat of history falling into oblivion.

“I’m from the city […] I didn’t really know what happened to ordinary Chinese people then. This is why I wanted to make this movie. I tried my best to understand.”

Drawn from the material of three short stories by Jia Dashan, Bangzi Melody tells the story of a pending challenge to the peanut farmers of a small village in the North-East of China. They coincidentally find out that a land reform will take place and that they are to receive political guests very soon. Until then, their task is to rehearse and perform a classic, pre-revolutionary opera for the cadres, supposedly a sign for reinvigoration after decades of systematic oppression during the cultural revolution.

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Go On a Psychedelic Adventure With Winnie Cheung’s ‘Albatross Soup’

Winnie Cheung’s animated short, Albatross Soup, is a fascinating combination of animation and documentary. A group of 50 people were tasked to answer a riddle, which is asked by a god-like narrator: “A man gets off a boat. He walks into a restaurant and orders albatross soup. He takes one sip… pulls out a gun, and shoots himself to death. So…why did he kill himself?” As the subjects work their way through the riddle, trippy illustrations animate each question and attempt to construct the narrative. In just a few minutes, we are taken on a psychedelic ride about a man, a bowl of albatross soup, and an island.

Albatross Soup pulls you in and has you playing along with the brain teaser, which feels more like a choose-your-own-adventure story with a complex narrative arc. Fiona Smyth’s illustrations and Masayoshi Nakamura’s animations flow seamlessly together, creating a fluid experience that replicates a stream-of-consciousness logic that matches the attempt to solve a riddle.

Cheung, a Brooklyn-based filmmaker, talked with me over the phone about creating such a unique hybrid documentary, why she chose this riddle, and what it takes to work with animators.

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“I’m Not Willing to Accept the Official Narrative Anymore” — An Interview with ‘Flatland’ Director Jenna Bass

A Western-stye tale of female empowerment that sees two women, Natalie (Nicole Fortuin) and Poppie (Izel Bzuidenhout) ride across the South African Karoo in search of adventure and self-fulfillment, Flatland was chosen to open the Berlinale Panorama Section. We talked to director Jenna Bass all about her landmark feminist film.

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