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Wednesday, July 2, 2014

From the Mouths of Filmmakers: Sumyi Khong Antonson

By Sumyi Khong Antonson and Joshua Handler 

Recently I've been disturbed by the amount of people who don't seek out independent films, non-English-language films, and classics.  So, I asked the filmmakers or distributors who I believe to be the most original voices in the industry to submit responses to four questions about if/why they think indies/non-English-language films/classics are important to view and how they've been influential on their careers.

The response below is Sumyi Khong Antonson, Vice President of Marketing and Distribution for Drafthouse Films.  During her time at Drafthouse, the company has released Joshua Oppenheimer's Oscar-nominated THE ACT OF KILLING, Michel Gondry's MOOD INDIGO, and Alex van Varmerdam's BORGMAN.  Prior to working at Drafthouse, she was the Executive Director of Marketing for Anchor Bay Films. 

Do you feel that it is important for aspiring filmmakers and filmgoers to view independent and world cinema and why?
Yes, some of the most interesting and innovative films are coming from the independent space and through foreign films. At Drafthouse Films, an independent distribution company, we seek out films that touch and move us and many of the films we gravitate towards happen to be foreign language titles. We don't seek them out specifically, but there is a lot of exciting and boundary-pushing cinema coming from different parts of the world, and taking in fresh sensibilities and viewpoints only further enriches an aspiring filmmaker or general film-goers' overall movie watching experience.
Do you feel that it is important for aspiring filmmakers and filmgoers to view classics and why?
Again yes, like above [question], experiencing older films also enriches a filmgoer's experience for contemporary titles too. In addition to catching more references, influences, and groundbreaking techniques of previous films as it relates to current filmmakers, there are just a ton of fantastic, older but timeless films out there! Also, movies are often shaped by the era's ideology, trendsm and circumstance they were created in and can serve to be an interesting window into the sociological importances of that time.
How has viewing indies and films from around the world helped you as a distributor?
Our boutique distribution company specializes in indies, so for us, it's a treat to find movies we love and get them out into the world and not worry as much about focusing on elements such as star casting or a title that may be more mainstream but more bland, because we can focus on the story and performances. On a personal level, it was also helped broaden my worldview on both cultural nuances and universal themes relatable across all languages through cinema.
What's one American indie and one film not in English that you would recommend that film-lovers or young/aspiring filmmakers see?
Hm, there are so many so I'm going to cheat and choose two films that I've worked on recently to narrow down the selection, but to be fair, young/aspiring filmmakers will get a lot of out both movies. And they are both on Netflix so easy to access! 
For the indie title, Cheap Thrills is a dark comic thriller that pushes the limit based on a simple, relatable premise of how far you would go for money. The film escalates wildly but thoroughly and realistically balances both the humor and the darker moments wonderfully without causing whiplash to the audience. E.L. Katz, the first-time director did an amazing job nailing strong performances across the board, working the script so that only the essential dialogue is left on the page, tightly editing the film with no extraneous dialogue or scenes so that every moment is necessary to the story and also giving the film a larger sense of scope given the limited set locations. The film was also shot in 12 days so not only is the film a really fun movie to watch, it's also a display of everything coming together despite limited resources and time to create a film that feels much larger in scope. 
For a foreign title, I'm recommending our Oscar-nominated documentary feature, The Act of Killing by Joshua Oppenheimer and executive produced and supported by documentary titans Werner Herzog and Errol Morris. Not only is it see former genocide leaders act out their memories in fantastical scenes via musical numbers, film noir and action scenes and cowboy Western sets, the film also tackles much more layered moral and social conundrums such as what it would be like for these murderers to be living in a culture where they are celebrated for their evil actions--and, since they are not being challenged to confront or admit those actions as wrongdoings--how they internalize or display their varying levels of guilt. On a technical level, the film also turns the documentary form on its head. Never have subjects participated in the reenactment process in the manner that they do in this film, which in turn, their very involvement helps unfold yet another layer to the story about these men.
The next response will be from Rodney Ascher, director of ROOM 237.

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