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American Film Festival

The inaugural American Film Festival will be held in the heritage town of Wroclaw, Poland from October 20 to 24, 2010. It is the first film event in Eastern Europe exclusively devoted to contemporary and classic American cinema.


Narrative Features Interview Roundtable: American Film Festival


On Saturday, I sat down with three of the narrative features directors represented in this year’s American Film Festival, the first event in Eastern Europe to be solely devoted to contemporary and classic American cinema. Tim Rutilli, a musician-turned-filmmaker whose alternative rock band Califone has played concert and festival dates around the world, is represented at the Festival by ALL MY FRIENDS ARE FUNERAL SINGERS. Bill Morrison is an award-winning avant-garde filmmaker best known for his “found footage” films, which use archival images that have naturally deteriorated to comment on the fragility of life in general. His feature debut DECASIA in 2002 was an arthouse hit all over the world, including here in Poland, and he returns with his sophomore effort SPARK OF BEING. Michael Mohan is a Los Angeles-based filmmaker who has made his mark in short films and music videos. He debuts with his feature film ONE TOO MANY MORNINGS, which had its world premiere showing at last year’s Sundance Film Festival.  

Sandy Mandelberger: “How did your film make it her to the American Film Festival in Poland?”


Tim Rutilli: I was a musician invited to the Sundance Film Festival last year to show my film and also to do some live concert gigs. We ended up having four screenings of the film, one of which we played live for, and the other three contained the music we recorded for the soundtrack. Programmers from the American Film Festival saw our film there and sent us an invitation to come to Poland to present it here.


Bill Morrison:  I have known Ula Sniegowska, the Festival Artistic Director, for years when she was curating cutting-edge film and video art pieces for museums and galleries. She had invited my previous film DECASIA to the Warsaw Cinematheque and I had such a strong impression about the Polish audiences, who are very educated and knowledgeable about film. As soon as she heard that I had a follow-up film, she immediately sent out an invitation. I know from past experience that European audiences have a great appreciation for this more difficult kind of filmmaking.


Michael Mohan: My film was screened at Sundance also and I was thrilled when the programmers from this Festival contacted me about coming here. It is a long stretch from Malibu, where we shot the film with friends, to coming to Poland, but this has been a great experience for me and the film so far.


Sandy Mandelberger: “How did your projects evolve and how long did it take from conception to finally realizing the film?”


Bill Morrison: SPARK OF BEING was made as a collaboration with the jazz musician Dave Douglas. We both were approached by Stanford University, which has an artist-in-residence program and was interested in developing cutting-edge projects that combines digital imagery with progressive music. I had had this idea of trying my hand at the myth of Dr. Frankenstein and his monster for a long time, and after I heard the music that Dave had composed, I began to imagine how I could re-tell elements of the classic Mary Shelly story by using my signature of archival footage. So, this film follows more of a narrative form than my previous films have, but it still remains rather abstract and mysterious. We presented it at Stanford, and have since been presenting it at a mix of museums and jazz clubs. This presentation here in Wroclaw is the world premiere of the film with the jazz music on the soundtrack. We will continue to perform this live when we can but now we also have another version that can be seen at film festivals.


Bill Rutilli: We also conceived of the film as something to be shown during a live concert event, but now have recorded our music onto the soundtrack. I had been making some short films and video art pieces, including a video installation called Key To The Highway and a short titled Three Legged Animals, which got shown at a bunch of museums and galleries. But I felt ready to do a feature film, so I just moved ahead, putting myself and fellow musicians in the cast and tried to explore some themes that interest me, like death and time. We have released a music CD accompaniment to the film (which is being distributed by IndiePix) on the Dead Oceans Records label.

Michael Mohan: I had been making music videos for this indie record label Dangerbird Records and others, and also creating video installations, including one called The Interrogation that got seen at lots of art galleries and art fairs. I really wanted to make a feature film but we had so little money, but I figured that was also a good thing. I just cast my friends as the actors, including the lead who lives in an apartment in a church in Malibu. We mostly shot on that free location which kept our budget really small. A millionaire in Scottsdale, Arizona wanted to make a horror film and that was supposed to be my feature debut. But once we got started on it, we asked ourselves “what are we doing?” and pulled the plug and started focusing on the film that became ONE TOO MANY MORNINGS.   

Sandy Mandelberger: “Other than getting the film shown at festivals around the world, how are you reaching out to your audiences so they can experience the work?”


Michael Mohan: Eventually, we got into Sundance and that really created a lot of awareness of the film, so it is now making the rounds of the festival circuit but also can be downloaded for a rental fee on YouTube. We’ve been kind of random in our festival strategy, mainly going to festivals that invite us but don’t charge an entry fee. We’ve also done a number of special screenings, including one in LA that was moderated by John August, who is Tim Burton’s regular screenwriter. He had seen the film on YouTube and said that if we had a screening in LA, he could fill the room and love to moderate the q + a. Now we are also accepting college dates and charging $100 per screening plus a live q + a on Skype with us. We do have a sales agent for the film but still we’re doing a self-release, which is hard, but the way we have to go to get the film seen.


Bill Morrison: We are still doing screenings at museums and jazz clubs, with the live music plus projected digital images as the model. But now that we have a digital copy that has the soundtrack on it, we are just beginning to hit the festival circuit. The American Film Festival was the world premiere of the film in this format, so I am looking forward to traveling with the film to different festival events. I’ve also got a retrospective of my work happening at the British Film Institute in the next few months, so that should help get more interest in this new film in the UK and Europe. I am open to online platforms for distribution but haven’t done much with it yet.


Bill Rutilli: We’re talking with a few different distributors, particularly ones that are either affiliated with record companies or who have released music-oriented films in the past and know how to handle them. I was hoping my record label would help with cross promotion but they mainly have been confused about why we made a film in the first place. It is really strange how separate the film and music worlds are and how different people find our music from the ones who seek out our film. But maybe that will change in the future…….