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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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 Wanted to Reflect How Suffocating Gender Norms Can Be” — An Interview With ‘Normal’ Director Adele Tulli

Italian documentaries had a field day at Berlinale this year. Whether it was the innovative Selfie, allowing its subjects to become the cameramen themselves, or the harrowing depiction of Cosa Nostra brutality in Shooting The Mafia, the Southern European country asked hard questions of its society this year. The standout was Normal, the latest documentary from Adele Tulli, which takes a fresh and innovative look at gender stereotypes. Allowing its images — whether it’s boys riding motorbikes, or girls dressing up as princesses, or mothers exercising in the park — to truly speak for themselves, Tulli pushes the absurdity of fixed gender norms to their very limit. We sat down with her to discuss her unique documentary.

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Interview: ‘Searching’ Writer Sev Ohanian Talks Social Media and the Writing Process

Searching stars John Cho, who makes history as the first Asian-American actor leading a Hollywood thriller. The film is innovatively told purely through screens, as a desperate father attempts to find his missing daughter.

While it could be argued that having a film set through screens is extremely limiting and can create an emotional block, Aneesh Chaganty (co-writer, director) and Sev Ohanian (co-writer, producer) execute certain techniques successfully, that other movies filmed in a traditional format, couldn’t. David Kim (John Cho) often types messages and then deletes them, which successfully bridges the gap between appearance vs reality; what David truly wants to say vs what he actually says.

One thing that continued to surprise me throughout Searching was the extent to which Chaganty and Ohanian understand the relationship teenagers have with social media. I’m not referring to the general “social media is bad” sentiment other filmmakers instill in the audience, but a more nuanced message: social media allows people to be themselves (to an extent) but is also extremely isolating. Margot and David’s relationship from the onset is grounded in tension and unfamiliarity as they try and navigate life without Margot’s mother, Pam. Death brings people closer together, but the sad reality is that sometimes it does the exact opposite.

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“I’m Not Interested in Successful People” — An Interview with ‘Jumpman’ Director Ivan I. Tverdovsky

This interview was done by our guest writer, Redmond Bacon.

Jumpman, the latest film by Ivan I. Tverdovsky, concerns an orphaned boy who suffers from congenital analgesia – meaning that he feels no pain. One day his estranged mother picks him up from the orphanage and together they run a blackmailing scheme whereby he jumps in front of cars and blackmails their owners for money. Set in and around Moscow, it’s a seething indictment of corruption in contemporary Russian society. The third film from the young director shows him in total command of his style, which deploys long takes to fully immerse us into the lives of its characters. Soundtracked by artists such as ЛУНА, and set in popular Moscow locales such as Squat 3/4 club, it maintains a contemporary feel, giving it a strong chance of connecting with young viewers in Russia today.

The movie celebrated its premiere in the competition slot of the Karlovy Vary International Film Festival. I sat down with the director to talk about his inspiration for the film, his attraction to characters who are outsiders, and the significance of national symbols.

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