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Fort Lauderdale International Film Festival

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The Fort Lauderdale International Film Festival (FLIFF) reels out over 200 films from around the globe. Filmmakers and celebrities attend many of the screenings and events during the festival. Parties and gatherings at area "hot spots", on board yachts, and on the beach will provide audiences an opportunity to hob knob with film talent and other movie buffs.




Interview with Mary Stuart Masterson + Jayce Bartok of THE CAKE EATERS

Friday, November 9----------On the sunny terrace of the Gallery One Double Tree Suites Hotel, facing the intracoastal waterway in Fort Lauderdale, I sat down with Mary Stuart Masterson, the debut director, and Jayce Bartok, actor and screenwriter of THE CAKE EATERS, which screened last evening as the Fort Lauderdale International Film Festival Centerpiece Film. Masterson joins a distinguished list of actors-turned-directors who are drawing on their instinctive awareness of acting styles to create compelling stories, mixing acting, strong imagery, music and other elements of the film form. THE CAKE EATERS had its world premiere at the Tribeca Film Festival and is currently touring the international and US film festival circuit. The film stars industry veterans Elizabeth Ashley and Bruce Dern as secretive lovers, and a host of young actors making their name in burgeoning careers, including scenarist Jayce Bartok and newcomer Aaron Standford as two brothers at odds with each other's values and choices, and Kristen Stewart as a beautiful handicapped teenager who is determined to experience sexual pleasure before her body is further ravaged by a crippling neurological disorder. Set in an austere upstate New York, the film is a worthy addition to the canon of indie family dramas, such as IN THE BEDROOM and YOU CAN COUNT ON ME.

Sandy Mandelberger (SM): You are the child of a theatrical family. How has that shaped your world view and your approach to your art and career? 

Mary Stuart Masterson (MSM): When you grow up with people who do this, you have no illusions about it. I don’t see it as a glamorous kind of thing…I feel very privileged that I get to spend my life telling stories that mean something to people. They taught me that the greatest benefit is “going on the journey” and that’s really rubbed off on me. I really don’t feel that it’s worth doing unless you can learn and grow from the process. I don’t focus as much on how others perceive it…it is more of a personal process for me.  

SM: Your role as the fiery non-comformist in FRIED GREEN TOMATOES (1991) is one of your best, I think. Are you aware that the film is a lesbian favorite? What are some of your impressions of that film and the reaction to it? 

MSM: I am definitely aware that it an important film to the lesbian community. They have always been incredibly kind and supportive of my work. But I think that my role in that film and also in SOME KIND OF WONDERFUL (1989) reflect a non-traditional kind of young woman that anyone who is a little different from the norm can relate to. I can say that there have not been many scripts that have such a strong female character as those two were, and I wish there were more of them to play.  

SM: You played another outsider in the 1993 film BENNY & JOON, opposite Johnny Depp. What are your memories of that film? 

MSM: When we shot the film, it had a much darker tone to it, but that got lightened in the final version, made more quirky. Johnny Depp and I had a really good time together. We actually played a lot of music together, in this converted warehouse in Spokane, Washington. We definitely had this musical bond, which helped our relationship in the movie. It also got me thinking about music in a more serious way. Unfortunately, I never was able to put that into practice in a film, but maybe in the future. 

SM: Well you definitely showed that you had “musical chops” in 2003, when you made your Broadway musical debut in the staged revival of the musical NINE. How did you come to be cast, since you stated at the time that the only singing you had ever done was in the shower? 

MSM: I was blessed with decent pipes, but I was just plain chicken to perform in public. I actually wrote a screenplay about a character who is a kind of closet singer, who only sings in the privacy of her home, but then learns how to let her talent get recognized as a way of liberating herself. That script never got made, but when I auditioned for NINE, I thought about that character, and how the process would be the same for me. I was thrilled and excited to be surrounded by so much talent…..the chorus had amazing voices and I was incredibly nervous. The run through with the cast was even more terrifying than opening night, but somehow I got through it. Now I’d like to do an original musical in the theater, and work with the composer and creators of a show….that would be really cool.  

SM: Let’s talk about THE CAKE EATERS. How did this project come about?  

Jayce Bartok (JB): I was really impressed with how certain New York actor friends of mine, particularly Dan Futterman (who wrote the screenplay for CAPOTE), were able to channel their talents into writing screenplays and producing for the big screen. I had the idea to write a really intimate story that would be very character driven that I could try and get some of my actor pals involved in. I was also going through some personal issues involving my own family, and decided that I could use that as an inspiration to create this story. My mother was going through a difficult illness and it was having a strong effect on my father and my two brothers. So, that became the source for the film after family loyalties that are tested when a mother is ill and eventually dies. I also was intrigued by the idea of what it meant to feel trapped, either because of physical ailments or because of other things, and that seemed a very dramatic device to give life to these characters who all feel kind of trapped in their small town existence. After working on the script for several months, I did a staged reading in Los Angeles, and eventually brought it to New York, where it got optioned. As it turned out, Mary Stuart and I share the same agent, so he passed along the script to her, since he knew that she was looking for a property to direct.  

SM: You’ve assembled a really interesting cast, a mix of young unknowns and some veteran actors, like Elizabeth Ashley and Bruce Dern. How did you approach the casting? 

MSM: Well, I really loved that the script needed to have a range of characters of different ages. I am a sucker for older actors in a film, but usually they are just portrayed as being grandmas. I wanted to make them sexy and vital, and Elizabeth Ashley and Bruce Dern just had such a spark and gave so much of their energies to making their characters real and full-blooded. Aaron Standford who plays the younger brother is a really amazing young actor and he brought so much solidity and quiet grace to his part. And we cast Kristen Stewart, who is just got rave reviews for her part in Sean Penn’s INTO THE WILD, as the young girl who is trapped by her neuromuscular disease. It’s amazing, because people always ask where we found this diabled girl to play the part, and everyone is amazed that she is not really disabled. She is also drop-dead gorgeous which adds so much. I really would love to see her get an award nomination for this part….she is amazing in it. 

SM: You premiered the film at the Tribeca Film Festival and have since shown it at over a dozen film festivals. What has that experience been like? 

JB: When we played at Tribeca, I was really really nervious. I couldn’t tell if we would get stoned by the audience or what. I mean, it is an intimate, sweet kind of story and sometimes the industry can be very cynical about that kind of thing. But to my great surprise and relief, people really responded to it and were really positive. For the last few months, it’s been non-stop festival action. And it’s great, because people are really responding to the story and to the relationships in the film. It’s been a great experience. 

MSM: It’s fun to be able to interact with audiences after a year of basically being in a dark room with the film, editing it and refining it. It is very satisfying to see the film with an audience and see that things you were hoping would “land” (a laugh, a tear) actually worked. The humor is all based in character, so the more the audience gets involved, the more the humor is earned, even when the story turns more somber. I love the festival circuit because I feel that reallmovie fans go to the festivals and the audiences are just so intelligent and perceptive. It’s great to be with people who really love movies and love to talk about them. It’s kind of like the “whistle stop tour” of THE CAKE EATERS 

SM: What are you both working on next? 

MSM: We just finished shooting a film called TICKLING LEO, which is written and directed by my husband. We are starting a film company and are trying to raise money for a slate of films. The film is super low budget but we were able to attract some really great actors, including Eli Wallach, Victoria Clark, Larry Pressman and many other great actors. It’s about a family gathering in the Catskill Mountains where a Jewish family assembles as the patriarch, played by Eli Wallach, slips into dementia. What gets revealed is a family secret about how he and his wife survived the Holocaust, so it’s very dramatic and filled with lots of pain and revelation. It’s a great character drama. We shot it in 14 days on digital video and are now in post-production.   

JB: I’m working on a couple of new scripts, one called DREAM COUNTRY, with Bill Pullman and Robert Loggia attached to it. It’s a bigger budget.....around $5 million.  I am trying to raise the money for that one right now, but this writer's strike is not making it easy. Another script is about a bulimic ballerina….that's one they are going to run to see (chuckle). My wife and I did a documentary called ALTERED BY ELVIS, about how people are affected by Elvis Presley, and we just shot a short film. So, I am definitely moving up the ranks to become a filmmaker and eventually direct a film in the near future.  

SM: Well thanks for your time and good luck at the screening tonight.


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About Fort Lauderdale International Film Festival

Mandelberger Sandy
(International Media Resources)

Online Dailies for the 24th edition of the Fort Lauderdale International Film Festival , October 23 - November 11, 2009

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