Search Film Reviews

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

From the Mouths of Filmmakers: Daniel Myrick

Dan Myrick

With the success of IT FOLLOWS and the recent discussions it has sparked about the number of original, critically-acclaimed indie horror films being released, I wanted to reach out to some of the most original voices in horror cinema to ask them a few questions about the state of horror cinema today and why they believe there has been a resurgence of sorts of great horror.

The responses below are from Daniel Myrick, best known for co-directing/co-writing/co-editing (with Eduardo Sánchez) The Blair Witch Project, one of the most successful independent films of all time. Myrick's next film will be Under the Bed.

Why do you believe there has been a surge of critically-acclaimed horror films recently like IT FOLLOWS, THE BABADOOK, YOU'RE NEXT, and others?

I think they’re just good films that actually scare people. Also, they possess fresh premises that people find engaging.   

What do you think the wide release of IT FOLLOWS means for future indie horror films, if anything?

I don’t think much has changed. It Follows once again proves that you don’t need big names or high budgets to cross over into the mainstream. If you have a fresh idea and good execution you can break out and become a commercial as well as a critical success. This is just the latest example and serves as a reminder to Hollywood.

Why do you believe horror films are important to cinema as a whole?

It’s a genre that doesn’t necessarily depend on “name talent” or big budgets to make an impact on a mass scale. A good scare is cross-cultural and easily translatable, which is why they can be so popular worldwide. This leaves open the possibility for fresh, young talent to break through with unique ideas in this medium, which is always a good thing. 

What's your favorite horror movie?

Hard to say which one is my favorite. Certainly, The Shining ranks up there, as well as The Exorcist.

Monday, April 27, 2015

From the Mouths of Horror Filmmakers: Nicholas McCarthy

Photo by Arthur Dix - ©2011 Arthur Dix

With the success of IT FOLLOWS and the recent discussions it has sparked about the number of original, critically-acclaimed indie horror films being released, I wanted to reach out to some of the most original voices in horror cinema to ask them a few questions about the state of horror cinema today and why they believe there has been a resurgence of sorts of great horror.

The responses below are from Nicholas McCarthy, writer/director of The Pact (Sundance Film Festival 2012) and At the Devil's Door (SXSW 2014).

Why do you believe there has been a surge of critically-acclaimed horror films recently like IT FOLLOWS, THE BABADOOK, YOU'RE NEXT, and others?

This century a new market opened up for horror, since more independent films were getting made and the genre is inherently commercial.   That led to a wider variety of genre films.  As that was all happening, horror made its way into the mainstream.  I think it was because of the internet - a lot of people who were into film got exposed to the genre's variety and depth of history beyond what they knew before.  The result is that horror is not as low class as it once was, so of course the reviews followed.  Personally as a fan of the genre I think it's great that all three of the films you listed are so incredibly different.  

What do you think the wide release of IT FOLLOWS means for future indie horror films, if anything?

I haven't read much about the release of IT FOLLOWS, but I do know they withheld VOD to build a theatrical audience, which is cool because it shows they were aiming for the mainstream with this eccentric movie.  Frankly, the teen sex angle probably has something to do with their confidence.  But the movie has a memorable horror hook which I'm sure resonates with a lot of the people who've seen it.  I'm not sure the push entirely financially paid off, but hopefully the higher profile of this somewhat offbeat genre film will inspire a few producers to trust writers and directors to take risks with their material.  

Why do you believe horror films are important to cinema as a whole?

I think to appreciate horror is to appreciate that which the cinema can do best.  And Westerns are kind of dead now, so horror is nearly the last genre standing.  These kinds of stories after all are the ones that will be around when we've long since disappeared.  It'll be left for the aliens to figure us out on the basis of them.

What's your favorite horror movie?

I'm going with Hammer's Dracula (1958).

Sunday, April 26, 2015

Tribeca Review: CARTEL LAND

Autodefensa member standing guard in Michoacán, Mexico, from CARTEL LAND, a film by Matthew Heineman Photographer: Matthew Heineman
2015, 98 minutes
Not Rated

Review by Joshua Handler

Dangerous doesn't even begin to describe Matthew Heineman's Sundance double prize-winner, Cartel Land. Miraculous and death-defying might be the more apt adjectives. To create his thorough, personal, and multi-dimensional look into the U.S.-Mexico Drug War, Heineman literally risked his life. To make this film, Heineman got caught in the middle of shootouts and followed vigilantes as they hunted drug cartel members. Thus, Cartel Land is riveting filmmaking, putting any other narrative drama on the drug war to shame with its heart-stopping action sequences and life-or-death circumstances.

Cartel Land is an unflinching and utterly hopeless look at a war with no end in sight. Heineman refuses to sugar coat anything. He shows this drug war in all of its brutality. Much of Cartel Land is hard to watch, but it's impossible to turn away. 

With this film, Heineman makes the drug war personal. By following citizens fighting drug cartels on both sides of the U.S.-Mexico border, Heineman shows the effects this drug war has on people's lives. The intensity of the trauma described and depicted is indescribably disturbing, and Heineman doesn't shy away from the horrors.

Most importantly, Cartel Land is a ruthless exposé of the Mexican government's involvement in and inability to control the drug war. The American government doesn't get a pass from this film, but it's mainly the Mexican government that is targeted by it and for good reason. This war will never end if people involved in the Mexican government keep supporting the drug cartels.

Overall, Cartel Land accomplishes the impossible: it manages to create a portrait of one of the most complex conflicts of today in 98 minutes. While ultimately too long, every second of this film is compelling, rendering the overlong running time unimportant. With twists and turns that could only happen in real life, Cartel Land is yet another example of the truth being far stranger than fiction. 


Tribeca Review: IN TRANSIT

2 strangers meet in the Observation Car Photography by Nelson Walker
2015, 76 minutes
Not Rated

Review by Joshua Handler

"I know I'll never be out here again. So this has been a good trip," says one traveller in Albert Maysles' In Transit (the film was co-directed with Lynn True, Nelson Walker, David Usui, Ben Wu). This line could reflect the significance of this film to Maysles' life, as it is his final film after a remarkable career. In Transit is a triumph of humanist cinéma vérité filmmaking, the kind of filmmaking that Maysles mastered. This film gives viewers glimpses into the lives of passengers on Amtrak's Empire Builder, America's busiest long-distance train route.

In Transit won't be everyone's cup of tea. It's a slow-moving film in which nothing of significant consequence happens, but that's the source of this film's magic and beauty. Watching In Transit is like walking through a train picking up on pieces of passengers' conversations, occasionally stopping to chat with one or two of them. The nuggets of conversation shown on screen are so intimate that it's a gift to see them in a film.

For many passengers, the camera is like a confessional. These people open up to the camera (and, by default, every audience who views this film) in ways that they might never to their closest friend. Maysles and his co-directors capture these moments with the matter-of-factness that makes cinéma vértité the distinctly humane style that it is.

Overall, In Transit is a work of wisdom and wonder from one of the medium's legends. A highlight from this year's Tribeca Film Festival, In Transit will not disappoint fans of Maysles' films. At 76 minutes, the film never outstays its welcome, and as quiet pieces of observational cinema go, this one's a keeper.


Friday, April 24, 2015

From the Mouths of Horror Filmmakers #3: Ted Geoghegan

Ted Geoghegan

With the success of IT FOLLOWS and the recent discussions it has sparked about the number of original, critically-acclaimed indie horror films being released, I wanted to reach out to some of the most original voices in horror cinema to ask them a few questions about the state of horror cinema today and why they believe there has been a resurgence of sorts of great horror.

The responses below are from Ted Geoghegan, director of We Are Still Here, which premiered at SXSW last month. 

Why do you believe there has been a surge of critically-acclaimed horror films recently like IT FOLLOWS, THE BABADOOK, YOU'RE NEXT, and others?

Genre fans are smart, and they're always looking for the next big (read: smart) thing. Times have drastically changed since the early-00s torture porn craze: gorefests seem passé, kids want to be scared, and adults want to think. Cerebral, clever genre fare is elevating horror and offering something exciting and new to the masses. As someone who was raised on - and unabashedly loves - slasher films, I admit it's quite nice to see audiences embracing something fresh and clever.

What do you think the wide release of IT FOLLOWS means for future indie horror films, if anything?

I don't think we'll be able to see the real ramifications of its release for a while, but if putting IT FOLLOWS out wide proves to be the success we all think it is, then we can all only hope that it will herald a return to form for the independent theater-going experience. And while I openly admit that I typically wait to watch most films at home these days, there's something to be said about the communal aspect of the cinema, which can greatly affect one's perception of a movie. Frankly, I'd like to have more reasons to drag my butt to the theater.

Why do you believe horror films are important to cinema as a whole?

Edison, the father of cinema, chose to adapt FRANKENSTEIN for the screen in 1910. Since the dawn of film, we've known that audiences will be drawn to the macabre. Horror films might not bring in Academy Awards, but they bring in audiences - and if the box office is strong, then we all succeed. I mean, just look at Paramount - their FRIDAY THE 13TH sequels, which the studio itself always scoffed, kept them afloat throughout practically all of the 1980s. Yeah, horror and its audience are immensely important, whether the suits care to admit that or not.

What's your favorite horror movie?

I love far too many to pick just one, but when cornered, I go with Lamberto Bava's DEMONS (1985) - a pitch-perfect Italian action-horror film fueled by one of the 80s finest soundtracks (Billy Idol, Saxon, Go West, Mötley Crüe). It's influenced everything from 28 DAYS LATER to the RESIDENT EVIL video games, and deftly mixes straight, splattery horror with deadpan humor. I watch it at least once a month.

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Tribeca Review: EMELIE

Little Boy (Thomas Bair) and Girl (Sarah Bolger) Cinematographer: Luca Del Puppo
2015, 80 minutes
Not Rated

Review by Joshua Handler

Michael Thelin's Emilie is an unnerving film that provokes discomfort similar to that of Craig Zobel's 2012 nail-biter, Compliance. Emilie begins with a discomforting single-take scene in which a girl is lured to a car and kidnapped, and the detached viewpoint from which the scene is shot sets the tone for the rest of the film. While this film will be polarizing due to its disturbing content, it's an undeniably impressive debut for Thelin and a phenomenal showcase for its child actors and Sarah Bolger.

It is best going into Emelie knowing nothing, so I will refrain from including any description of the story in this review.

Until the muddled, clichéd final act (which is still entertaining), Emelie is a restrained thriller that announces Michael Thelin as a talent to watch. Despite the potential for this film's material to be exploitative, Thelin handles it with nuance and realism. He creates an atmosphere of dread by withholding key information for as long as he can. This keeps the audience in suspense, provoking anxiety.

Where Thelin falls, though, is in the final act where the storytelling becomes slightly muddled and clichéd. Emelie plays all of its cards at once in the final act, which deflates the intensity that Thelin had built up and cheapens the impact of film. These missteps don't ruin the film, but it was saddening to see such a promising setup have such a generic payoff.

The performances of Sarah Bolger, Joshua Rush, Carly Adams, and Thomas Bair are astonishing. Bolger impressed over a decade ago with her heartfelt performance in Jim Sheridan's In America, and she impresses again with her unhinged portrayal of the eponymous character here. Rush, Adams, and Bair portray three young siblings under the "care" of Bolger's Emelie. Their respective performances are frighteningly realistic.

Overall, Emelie is a strong calling card for director Michael Thelin, cinematographer Luca Del Puppo (his dark cinematography evokes 1970s thrillers), and the lead actors. Thelin has what it takes to create a great thriller, and with more films, he will hone his craft. Right now, he's an exciting new director to keep an eye on.


Sunday, April 19, 2015

Tribeca Review: FRANNY

Richard Gere as Franny in FRANNY directed by Andrew Renzi.Photo Credit: William Gray
2015, 93 minutes
Not Rated

Review by Joshua Handler

Andrew Renzi's Franny is an notable film for a few reasons, not least because it announces the arrival of a major new voice in Renzi. Renzi directed Fishtail, an hourlong documentary that premiered in competition at Tribeca last year (it will be on Netflix Instant this summer), and has also produced some acclaimed features, most notably Antonio Campos' Afterschool

Additionally, Franny is notable because it features one of Richard Gere's finest performances. In Franny, Gere plays the titular character, a drug-addicted philanthropist who inserts himself in the lives of young newlyweds (Theo James and Dakota Fanning). Gere is electric in Franny. Rarely has he ever been this eccentric, this crazy, this unhinged. Hints of this side of Gere came out in his brilliant performance in Oren Moverman's Time Out of Mind, but nothing could have prepared audiences for this. The unpredictability of Gere's multidimensional performance is part of the fun of watching it - at one moment he's in the throes of withdrawal, the next, he's singing in front of a crowd. 

It is much to Renzi's credit that he lets Gere take this material and run with it. In all other respects, though, Renzi has control over the film, causing Franny to feel like the work of a far more experienced filmmaker. Renzi has the audacity of a filmmaker well beyond his years, but also directs with the energy of a young filmmaker. Many scenes in Franny (the car crash and finger scenes in particular) are bursting with energy. They're unflinching and place the audience in the middle of the action, making Franny an immersive, visceral filmgoing experience. Tonally, Franny is all over the place, which frequently works to its benefit (and occasionally to its detriment as well). The frequent tonal shifts keep the narrative intriguing and the audience on their feet. 

Joe Anderson's sumptuous cinematography revels in the richness of 35mm film and gives the film a haunting feel. Additional credit must go to Theo James who holds his own against Gere in a powerful performance. Dakota Fanning's performance is solid, but her character is underdeveloped.

Overall, Franny is an entertaining and unusual piece of work that played extremely well on this past Friday evening at its world premiere at the Tribeca Film Festival. For fans of Gere, this is a must-see, and for people looking to "find" a director before they're big, this is also a must-see. Renzi should have a very successful career ahead of him.


Saturday, April 18, 2015

Tribeca Review: GRANDMA

Sage (Julia Garner) and Elle Reid (Lily Tomlin) in GRANDMA Photo Courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics
2015, 80 minutes
Not Rated

Review by Joshua Handler

While an overall slight film, Paul Weitz’ Grandma is still a complete delight, and a film that is both relevant and needed. Snatched up by Sony Pictures Classics after its Sundance premiere, Grandma could have a successful theatrical run in August, and even land its star, Lily Tomlin, an Oscar nomination come next year.

Grandma tells the story of Elle (Tomlin), a misanthropic writer who breaks up with her girlfriend (Judy Greer), before having her granddaughter (Julia Garner) show up at her door asking Elle for money for an abortion. The problem is that Elle doesn’t have any money, which forces the two women to go across LA trying to find ways to come up with the abortion money.

Grandma is Tomlin’s show, and she completely owns it. The depth of feeling, empathy, and honesty that Tomlin brings to this role shows why she’s still one of the bravest actresses working today. Tomlin has lost none of the edge and charm that have made her an icon, and with impeccable comedic timing and heart to spare, she is a pleasure to watch.

The supporting cast is also strong. Garner is wonderful opposite Tomlin, providing a bit of sweetness against Tomlin’s bitterness. Marcia Gay Harden, Judy Greer, Sam Elliott, Laverne Cox, and the late Elizabeth Peña also give fine performances.

Grandma is very much an important film for the film industry. It’s a distinctly feminist film that has an iron-willed elderly lesbian character at its center. Characters like Elle are usually not depicted on film, so to have a film centered around a character like her is amazing. Elle is not a stereotype, but rather a flawed, complex human being. Hollywood needs to take a hint from this film. Additionally, it’s refreshing to see the topic of abortion dealt with so matter-of-factly. So many women get abortions, so to see it treated as simply a part of life is very commendable.

Overall, Grandma is a highly enjoyable 80 minutes. While I wish it had more emotional impact, Grandma is still a film well worth viewing, especially for Tomlin’s performance. In the midst of a festival full of heavy, dark films, it’s nice to see something as sweet and charming as Grandma. This film will play especially well with older audiences, but will also connect with middle-aged adults and teens as well.


Friday, April 17, 2015

Tribeca Review: AUTISM IN LOVE

Lindsey and Dave
Photo Credit: Scott Uhlfelder

2015, 75 minutes
Not Rated

Review by Joshua Handler

Matt Fuller's Autism in Love could have easily been an overly sentimental, heavy-handed mess, but instead, it is a thoughtful, good-hearted, moving, and above all, honest film that follows four adults with autism and their relationships (or lack thereof). Autism in Love strikes an impressive balance of sweet and sad, sometimes hitting those notes simultaneously.

The film tells three stories: that of Lindsey and Dave, who are in a relationship, that of a younger man, Lenny, who wants to be in a relationship, and that of Stephen and Geeta, a middle-aged married couple. Each of these three stories is uniquely compelling and heartbreakingly real. The immense amount of trust that each person places in Fuller makes the interviews incredibly candid and real. One of the most revealing moments in the film is one in which Lenny sits down with Fuller and breaks down. It is a moment of vulnerability rarely shown in documentaries, and the amount of courage required to show this on camera is something that few people have.

Many documentaries fall into heavy-handedness when exploring subjects like this one, but Fuller never allows his film to stoop to those low levels. Fuller trusts the strength of his material and his subjects enough to allow them to speak themselves.

While the film is a wonderfully short 70 minutes (without credits), it wouldn't have hurt to spend more time with Lenny, Stephen, Lindsey, and Dave. They are such complex, endlessly interesting individuals that you almost wish that the film had another 10 or 20 minutes added to it. This is also one of the few documentaries for which I would welcome a sequel.

A film like Autism in Love shows how real life can be the most amazing story of all. Stories like these keep us wanting to see more, just like life does. The universality of Autism in Love's themes make it even more moving than it already is.


Wednesday, April 15, 2015

From the Mouths of Horror Filmmakers: Ben Wheatley

Ben WheatleyPhoto by Ian Gavan - © 2015 Getty Images - Image courtesy

With the success of IT FOLLOWS and the recent discussions it has sparked about the number of original, critically-acclaimed indie horror films being released, I wanted to reach out to some of the most original voices in horror cinema to ask them a few questions about the state of horror cinema today and why they believe there has been a resurgence of sorts of great horror.

The responses below are from Ben Wheatley, best known for directing Down TerraceKill List, Sightseers, A Field in England, and the upcoming High-Rise

Why do you believe there has been a surge of critically-acclaimed horror films recently like IT FOLLOWS, THE BABADOOK, YOU'RE NEXT, and others?

The bottom line is we get the cinema that we deserve. If we support intelligent genre films, then we will get more intelligent genre films. If we don’t go and see them/buy them/tell our friends about them, then they won’t get made. 

Why do you believe horror films are important to cinema as a whole?

Horror is important because it allows a break away from the lie of the happy ending. 

What's your favorite horror movie?

My favourite Horror film is Threads.

Tribeca: An Interview with Matt Fuller

Matt Fuller
By Joshua Handler

Matt Fuller's Autism in Love tells the stories of four adults with autism who navigate love. The film is an honest, emotional, unsentimental look at autism and the universality and power of love. Autism in Love premieres on April 16 at the Tribeca Film Festival. It is highly recommendedThe below is an email interview between director Matt Fuller and me.

How did you find your subjects? 

I was introduced to most of our subjects after about 6 months of research. During that research process, we spread the word far and wide about what we wanted to do and many people were eager to participate.

What drew you to this subject matter?

Initially, I was drawn to autism and romance because as a storyteller I’m always looking for stories about characters who want something it seems they cannot have. On the surface, it looks like that’s the case for a lot of adults with autism. As soon as I spent some time with the autism community, I knew that was a misconception and it became something I grew to be passionate exploring.

There are many moments during which your subjects speak to you and open themselves up emotionally to you on screen. How did you keep an objective approach to your subjects? 

Keeping an objective approach is never easy, particularly when you become so close to your subjects. It just became clear to me that listening and giving my subjects a platform to be heard was what they wanted, and ultimately what I felt was going to create a moving film. Also, prior to making this film, I didn’t have any experience with autism. So, I began the movie from a position of curiosity, not with an agenda to promote.

Your main subjects are all fascinating and you manage to balance four of them over the course of 70 minutes. Was it challenging balancing these peoples' stories while editing the film? 

Yes, it was very difficult. We cut every subject’s story individually, and then worked to interweave them to create the feature. Each subject represented a unique place on the autism spectrum and a place in one’s journey with love. So, the juxtaposition of each scene was critical.

What do you hope your audience takes away from this film and how do you hope this film changes people's perceptions of autism? 

First, I hope people are moved by this film and that they empathize with all of the characters. More importantly, I hope that this film humanizes people living with autism.

What, if anything, did you learn about autism and love in general from making this film? 

I think the thing that sticks out the most is that regardless of how you define love, and despite any obstacles you may have, you can find a connection that fulfills.

What was your goal when beginning Autism in Love and did it change as you went along? 

My goal when I began the film was to understand autism and to make a compelling movie. By the end, my goal was to honestly and accurately share my subject’s stories with the world.

What have your subjects' responses been to the film? 

Generally very positive. I have to imagine there’s a little bit of a shock in seeing such intimate parts of your life on screen. But, everyone who’s seen it has responded positively.

Were there any subjects' stories that you had to cut out of the film? 

Yes! We filmed 5 subjects that didn’t make it into the final cut of the movie. They were all great, but after a few months of editing it became clear that we were going to have to cut some characters so as not to crowd the movie with voices. 

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

An Interview with Sharon Shattuck

Sharon Shattuck
By Joshua Handler

Sharon Shattuck's deeply moving From This Day Forward premiered last week at the Full Frame Film Festival to a sold out crowd. From This Day Forward tells the story of Shattuck's father, Trisha, her journey as a transgender woman, and her marriage with her wife, Marcia (Trisha and Marcia stayed together throughout Trisha's transition and are still married). The below is an email interview between Shattuck and me.

What has the response from the trans community been (if you've screened it to anyone outside of the Full Frame audience yet)?

We haven’t yet screened the film for a transgender-specific audience, but I have screened it privately for my friend Denise Brogan-Kator, a badass laywer for the Family Equality Council who is also a trans-woman and parent. She was wonderfully supportive and had some kind things to say about the project, so much so that she’s going to sit on the film’s panel at Good Pitch Chicago, a fundraising event where social issue films can raise funds for our outreach campaigns. There were some trans people at the Full Frame screening, and they came up to me after the screening to say that they were moved by the story.
How involved was Trisha in the shaping of the film during pre-production, production, and post?

Trisha was not involved, except as a subject, in the making of the film, but she did have a little camera that she talked to as though it were me—it was a stand-in for me when I was out of town. She talked to the camera for about a year, and told it some very deep, personal stuff, such as feeling conflicted about speaking in a falsely higher voice (“does this feel…real?”), as well as wonderfully funny moments, like when she confessed to planting trees in our neighbor’s yards, sometimes asking them for permission and sometimes not. When I first watched this footage, Trisha’s candor and personality came through in such a startling, fresh way that it blew me away. This is the truest record of who Trisha is and what she thinks and feels, even more true than the footage I shot, because it’s just her, on her own, being herself. I’m so deeply grateful that she shared that part of herself with me.

Once filming was done, or once we decided it had to be done for my sanity, I took Trisha’s camera footage and gave it, along with the footage I shot, to our editor Freddy Shanahan (who has worked on some stellar projects, including The Search for General Tso and the Emmy-nominated The City Dark). Freddy knew that I wanted to weave Trisha’s POV camera and her paintings into the story, and I believe that he found the most elegant, touching way to do that. Post-production was a collaborative effort between Freddy, myself, and my co-producer Martha Shane (who directed the magnificent After Tiller). We watched all the rough cuts together, and recorded the voiceover as a series of unscripted interviews between Martha and me, to make sure that it sounded as natural and unstaged as possible.

Has your hometown's attitude changed towards the LGBT community with Trisha being full time now?

Things have really changed in my hometown since I was a kid. Trisha began coming out when we first moved from Chicago to Northern Michigan, in 1990. She was around 35, I think, and I was about to start fifth grade. Back then, I believe that no one in our town had even heard the word “transgender” in their life. It was really difficult for my sister, Laura, and me to negotiate a new school while having a dad that stuck out like a sore thumb. On top of being transgender and clearly transitioning, Trisha was just as loud, bubbly and effusive as she is now. I remember lots of cringe-worthy moments in supermarkets and at school dances where Trisha would be singing loudly and drawing attention to herself, while Laura and I sank deeper and deeper into a puddle of embarrassment. I think that back then, the community was completely befuddled—a neighbor in my film says “disgusted”—that Trisha was so out, dressing in women’s clothing, doing something that was so taboo.

Nowadays, our town is divided into two camps, about 50:50: those that love Trisha and my family, and those that will have nothing to do with us. There are plenty of people in my hometown who won’t speak to Trisha and who cross the street to avoid even making eye contact with her. I think the thing that’s changed now is that Trisha and Marcia are just at peace with it, and if those other people don’t want to talk to my family, then my family doesn’t want to talk to them.

What was your goal when beginning the film and did it change as you went along?

This is a story that I’ve wanted to tell since I first started working in documentary film, but it took a long time for all the pieces to fall into place for this story to be told. I was very hesitant with putting my very private, sensitive family on film, because I didn’t want to compromise my relationship with them. So when I first conceived of this project, I thought that I would tell the story of ALL lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer families, “rainbow families,” rather than focus on my own family. I started doing interviews around the country, and met some extraordinary people—a transgender pilot who hides her true identity from her colleagues during the work week, a lesbian couple and their happy kids in Seattle. As I was bringing these interviews back to New York to log and process them, a collaborator of mine said, “these are great, but I’m most fascinated by your dad, that’s who I really want to watch.” Having such a wide scope was diluting the narrative, and once I realized that my dad, Trisha, would be okay with me filming her, that’s when I began to see what the film could really be.

The project changed into a small, personal story that shows people what it’s like to grow up in a family that’s a little bit different but still glued together with love. Through this little story, I hope to ask communities across the nation for compassion, acceptance and understanding for all rainbow families.

What was most rewarding for you as a filmmaker making this film?

Making this film has truly changed the way my family communicates. It’s been wonderful to talk about the things that I have kept quiet for so long, and I think it’s been very healing.

The mostly positive reception of my family by the local community has also been unexpected. Though there are still plenty of people who disapprove of what Trisha is doing, the words of support from my friends and former schoolmates have really galvanized us and strengthened those relationships. I think that for the community, hearing about what exactly Trisha has been going through and dealing with has been enlightening, and the prevalence of transgender people in the media nowadays has only helped to bring the community around.

But the most rewarding aspect, for me, has been on my own marriage, and how I view my relationship with my husband. I try to channel my mom’s strength and acceptance, and my dad’s quirky love of comedy and the unexpected, in my interactions with Jon. Being married is a lot of work! And I’m just getting started, but I hope to refer to their example throughout my life with my new husband.

Has this film changed your relationship in any way with your family?

Making this film has been intense and amazing—intensely amazing. Having my camera allowed me to ask questions about points in our family history that weren’t easy to discuss, but everyone treated me with respect and answered every question I asked—I still can’t believe it. I think the experience of making the film allowed my family and I to grow even closer. 

What do they think of the film?

They told me that the first time they watched it (which was on a tiny iPhone screen, by the way—wince), there were a lot of tears. But at the premiere, Trisha was laughing right along with the rest of the audience, and afterwards she told me that this film is my art, it’s the truest form of my expression, and that both she and my mom are deeply proud of me for making it. I think they’re still kind of reluctant film stars in that they never asked me to make a film about them, and only agreed because it was so important to me, but once they saw that sold out crowd at Full Frame, with a standing ovation for Trisha, they really warmed up to the idea of traveling with the film, and doing joint interviews and Q&As with me! I’m a lucky daughter to have such awesome parents.

From This Day Forward will next be screened at the Hot Docs International Documentary Festival on April 27.