Alice Esposito: Film Festival Winner for The Mockingbird That Fell from The Highest Branch

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Italian-born and Los Angeles-based, Alice Esposito is an award winning photographer and filmmaker,  with several film festival success stories in her quiver. Now she’s celebrating a recent win for her short The Mockingbird That Fell from The Highest Branch, which just won Best Comedy at The Prince of Prestige Academy Awards.

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The film is a black and white silent comedy inspired by cinema classics such as Fellini’s La Strada, and the comedy of Charlie Chaplin and Buster Keaton. The story: “A cynical, socially inept Mime lives a life of tiny distractions. Yet, even indulging in his smallest fantasies drives him to fits of rage and despair. A chance encounter with the woman of his dreams compels him into a series of humorously tragic attempts at wooing her.”

Esposito says her choice of creating a silent film project was a highly personal one. 

“Recently I became hard of hearing, and I had to adapt my way of communicating and understanding other people. Not only did I start to learn sign language but I had to rely more and more on my other senses. In doing so, I started to pay attention more to the expressions and gestures of the people that I was talking to, the little ticks, peculiar traits, and the body language of a person became some of the most important elements of communication for me, more than the spoken language. This movie was born from a need to represent my personal process, an extreme exaggeration of my experience, a way to go back to basic communication,” she reports.

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Esposito is also a huge fan of Fellini, Chaplin, and Keaton.

​ “Being Italian, my roots reside in the classics of Italian Cinema. I remember watching “La Strada” with my family when I was very young so my understanding of it wasn’t as accurate and full as now. Re-watching it after so many years, I got different aspects and layers of the movie that escaped me during my childhood. Chaplin and Keaton were amazing, complete artists. I feel like they had a magical way to show you the tragic pain that is love and life, leaving you almost longing for these conflicting feelings.” She adds “I think my love for them comes from their approach to life and art and how they were able to pass it to the audience. Their works have different layers, and especially Chaplin, has a way to sneak behind you after a big laugh and show you the truth of life. I think the best comedy is a sad comedy – something that both makes you laugh and think at the same time.”

The evocative title was one of the most difficult aspects of completing the production, she relates. ​”I remember I was in the car with the main actor, Phil Ristaino, and we started to throw titles around… I recalled that in Italian the mockingbird is also called ‘the mime’ and this bird is known for mimicking the songs of other birds and the sounds of insects. This is how it started to come together. Also, for me, being in love is like being above every physical experience I know, but at the same time when you heart gets broken the impact to the ground is hard. You could say the title serves to represent this feeling with a tragic romanticism and a pinch of irony in it.”

Esposito notes that this film was for her a passage, moving her on to the next step in her storytelling and style. “It was something that I needed to say and see. All my projects change drastically from one to another; I’m very eclectic about my style and my stories. I think my work is in constant change; for me, each story, each project requires a different visual, a different approach.”

In regard to her approach, the director explains that she’s is fascinated by the Japanese term for the awareness of impermanence, mono no aware.

“One director that was able to visualize this concept was Yasujirō Ozu. I love his appreciation and understanding of simplicity. We tend as humans to make a big deal of everything, but I feel like the answer is in the purity of things…You can see this especially in how I move the camera; I tend to keep everything simple almost static. Sometimes the moving camera deteriorates the composition. Coming from a background in painting and photography that is something very important to me.”

Esposito loves working in the short form, and playing with a sense of time. With The Mockingbird That Fell From The Highest Branch she says “There is not much evidence, especially in the beginning, to where and when we are, and there’s not much technology used in this movie. Only with the last few frames do you get an idea of when and where you are.” That said, she plans to work on a feature soon.

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This film is very much a tour de force for her lead actor, who she met in a San Francisco coffee shop six years ago. “We discovered we’d moved to LA at the same time. I always loved his work. I’m so honored and grateful for his continuous artistic collaboration. He is an outstanding actor and incredible comedian. We really understand each other. I think to find, not only an actor, but a person who understands you on so many levels, is a rare kind of magic.”

The tragi-comedy nature of the film is a delicate balance, one that starts with a personal perception of the world. She believes her long term collaboration with Ristaino made this easier to obtain in Mockingbird.

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“We have a similar way of looking at the world and people around us, so to transmit this idea on screen was very natural. Nothing you see was forced or pushed; I wanted this balance to feel organic. Personally I think this perception that I have of the world came from my family and was heightened by events that happened to me this last year. My mother passed away and this completely changed my vision of the world.” According to Esposito, both of her parents taught her every aspect of life and “that everything has layers. Not all that is sad is sad and all that is happy is happy; it’s a subtle balance, that either you have or you don’t. Luckily I was able to show this on screen with actors that could understand this process.”

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The project, for all its delicate thematic and visual beauty was shot in a compact three days across Los Angeles, from Eagle Rock to Malibu.

“I shot it with a Canon 5D Mark III with a 50mm lens and I adapted an old 35mm lens from the 60’s that my father gave me. It really gave the movie a classic feeling.”

While product was swift, post-production took substantially longer, almost a year. “I had amazing people on my team both from Italy and the USA. The composers Davide Alberto Centolani and Simone Anichini were phenomenal. We worked with an ocean between us, and they pulled off a soundtrack that gave the movie the mood and texture that you can’t miss. Sometimes I just put the music on repeat – it’s just magical!”

Readers can view this magic here 

  • Genie Davis; Photos provided by Alice Esposito

Paved New World Offers Brave New Role for Actor Daniel Pinder

 

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Daniel Pinder, well known for his role as Michael on Chicago PD – and for his love of skate boarding – is about to start in a new film project, Paved New World . With a powerful role inspiring his craft, he found the transition to a big-screen project inspiring.

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“We start filming in October in Los Angeles and I can’t wait. The movie is set in the 90s and follows two teens, Slim and Kilgore on their last day of summer as they travel across town to watch their skate boarding idol attempt a suicidal skate trick,” Pinder explains. “It’s really a coming of age story about these best friends on a journey of finding themselves.”

Pinder terms the story eminently relatable, and he feels he’s fortunate to be able to help tell it. “My character Slim is really spectacular. He’s very artistic; he’s a rebel at times with a sensitive side. He’s the kind of friend that everyone wants in their group of friends, the friend that will take a bullet for you.”

The film, written by Bio-Dome creators Scott Marcano and two time Emmy nominated and Golden Globe winner Kip Koenig of Greys Anatomy is directed by Skate God director Alexander Garcia. Pinder will be sharing the screen with actors such as Nash Grier from The Outfield and You Get Me, and as his love-interest, Claudia Lee of Kick-Ass 2 and Hart of Dixie.

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Pinder has loved acting since his childhood. “I get to entertain whoever the audience is and hopefully make an impact on their lives.” He says that he always knew that he wanted to impact other people’s lives, but wasn’t always sure how.

“Through watching movies or television shows that I liked, I started to see that the characters in these shows go through things I might have been going through at that time or things I might go through in the future, and it’s like the characters were teaching me or showing me ways to deal with the things in my life.” Calling this a moment of discovery, Pinder says this was when he knew that “acting was the thing for me, and the way I wanted to help other people.”

Pinder was raised in Fargo, North Dakota, far from the Los Angeles and New York acting scene. His friends and family have been supportive. “We all push each other to work hard to succeed at whatever we want to do,” he relates.

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Pinder’s first role on Chicago PD made him fall in love with acting. “Michael was my first role. I got the part two months after dropping out of culinary school,” he laughs. “I was living in Minneapolis at the time and I actually self-taped my audition in my basement. I got called back again the night after my tape was submitted asking for more video of me, and I was told it was down between me and about 8 other guys.” He got the call every actor wants to hear – you got the role – the night of his father’s birthday party.

Pinder says he relates well to the character, and was able to bring his favorite hobby – skateboarding – to the character, too.

Along with Paved New World, the actor just finished working on Alexander Garcia’s film Skate God. The skateboarding hobby Pinder has long enjoyed is useful for this role, as well.

The just-released film, which also involves actor Peter Fonda, deals with the descendent of Greek gods in a dystopian future. Pinder plays the role of Clash. Director Garcia is also working with Pinder on an upcoming mystery, Gallatin 6.

But it’s Paved New World which is most on Pinder’s mind right now. Having a lead role is an exciting first.

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“I really did fight for this part. I actually flew down from Fargo to Los Angeles to meet with Scott Marcano and Kip Koenig who wrote the film. They told me their vision, and I told them what I wanted to bring to the project and we really clicked. I think what makes me right for this part is that I understand Slim and in a weird way I feel like I’ve been very close to this character most of life,” Pinder asserts.  “What I most identify with in him is his passion. I’m very excited for everyone to meet Slim.”

Pinder adds “Besides the amazing team behind the movie, what really drew me to Slim was that he makes choices that I didn’t have the courage to do in my real life.”

Of course, pursuing acting itself was a courageous choice, and Pinder does have a few salient words of advice for anyone who wishes to follow in his footsteps. “Always stay unique because that’s what people are looking for. Work hard, stay true to yourself, and don’t change just to fit into the L.A. scene. You can do it no matter where you live as long you’re willing to put in the work,” he smiles. “If I can do it while I was living in Fargo, you can do it too.”

  • Genie Davis; photos provided by Daniel Pinder

Paved New World is set to release June 21, 2018.

I Spy: Espionage Tonight DWF20 Filmmaker Profile

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I spy…a lot of laughs and action in Rob Bralver’s Espionage Tonight, a wild, zany, dark, funny film that casts a spy thriller as a reality series. Bralver started out as an editor, transitioned to a writer/director and he’s now directed more films than he’s edited, but his sense of story is honed in the editing room, taut and well-paced.
“I always wanted to make a spy movie. My career prior to this film was in documentaries, and I became very familiar with the crafting of narratives and the business of entertainment. I noticed a lot of similarities between that world and the D.C. world of politics and espionage, which I’m equally fascinated by. There’s a lot of overlap between the two in terms of tradecraft. Sleight of hand, disguise, misdirection, PR, all kinds of tools where the only difference is the final product – entertainment or news. This movie was my way of exploring those parallels in hopefully a new and fun way, as we now live in a time where all the barriers and distinctions are gone. Facts, stories, recreations, policies – it’s a free for all, no matter your political orientation. While maybe that’s concerning in terms of possible real world repercussions, it’s also ripe for comedy,” Bralver says.
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Bralver’s previous work includes Cure For Pain: The Mark Sandman Story. “It’s a story about ambition, family, and loss. I learned a lot on that one, lessons that I expect served me well on everything going forward in work or life. There were very similar themes in Our Vinyl Weighs A Ton and Gore Vidal: The United States of Amnesia,” he relates. “It was not by design, but these very different stories and different people were all in their own way about outsider figures dealing with extreme loss and finding ways to overcome, and building new families and works to value to sort of reformat and re-strengthen their lives. Espionage Tonight was a departure from that kind of story on the surface, but I think at it’s core it’s the same thing on a different scale. The whole national landscape kind of needs to dust off the past and get a clean slate.”
That may sound heavy, but the film itself is pure fun. “Don’t worry too much about the details. Sit back and enjoy being lost for the ride. It’s meant as an impression of our new reality, where distinctions and exposition really don’t matter, lots of things never get resolved or never mattered to begin with, and the only resolution is probably getting on a boat and sailing away. I also hadn’t seen a movie like Airplane or Hot Shots in a while, and wanted us to have a new one. Don’t take it too seriously…but then think about it a week later.”
Put it this way – the lively, scathing, funny film is a lot more Survivor than Survivor could ever dream of being.
– Genie Davis; Photos: Jack Burke
 
 

 

Let’s Go to the Movies Again

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Dances with Films offered an incredibly strong slate of films Thursday through Sunday, the closing weekend of the festival. And our only regret is that the fest is over. Time to hang up our dancing shoes until next year.

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Thursday’s Espionage Tonight was a brilliantly structured dark comedy in which a reality TV show about spies is created to win back the faith of the American public. Audiences go undercover on missions around the globe. Real spy and reality tour guide “Swamp Fox” is alternately deadly and hilarious.

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Director Rob Gordon Bralver says the choice to create a reality style was done to save money, but budget doesn’t show on screen.  “We had tons of locations thanks to producer Amy Child, who made little miracles happen. Music is just me listening to iTunes so I could find what fits, and keep the film in its wierd comedy pocket,” he relates.  Lead actor Joe Hursley says for him, the filmmaking process and the point of the movie itself is “Trust your inner psychopath.”

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The festival’s Grand Jury Winner, One Less God was a harrowing take on the 2008 Mumbai terrorist attack on a tourist hotel. Deeply involving, moving, and packed with suspense, the large cast and humanitarian soul of the movie painted a picture of pain, beauty, and love.  Thoroughly engrossing.

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Writer/director/producer Lliam Worthington says “We knew people killed in the attacks, we just wanted to understand what was going on, the loss and the pain, and the people. I wanted to see the people. We have to continue to see people as a global society.” Worthington used some of the actual cell phone communication transcripts between handlers and operatives word for word during dialog for the terrorists; the 63-day shoot which took place off and on for a year never lacks in verisimilitude.

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The strong ensemble cast and sweeping, lush cinematography of Tater Tot & Patton add to a compelling tale of a millennial who escapes her own life at her uncle’s South Dakota ranch, forcing him from his placid, if liquor-drenched, existence. A well-balanced drama that pulses with life.

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Jimmy the Saint is a fresh, Los Angeles-based take on the Russian mob, true love, gambling addiction, and a street scene as authentic and involving as the film’s throbbing, vibrant heart. It’s a film that’s both violent and feel-good, a difficult feat to pull off – but it absolutely does.

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Director Branden Morgan shot “really cheap” in just 13 days, averaging 9 script pages each day. The thriller deals with “identity and liberation. Everyone wants that.” The pitch-perfect cast says the fact that Morgan began his career as an actor paid off. “He constantly guided me through,” lead Zach Hursh attests. And guidance was key, through strong physical action, and the learning of Russian dialog by lead actors.  What’s next for Morgan? “My partner and I sold another weird adult drama to Sony Crackle.”

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Jimmy the Saint above, The Scent of Rain & Lightning below

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The Scent of Rain & Lightning is packed with stunning images in a strongly performed if convoluted story of murder, lust, and revenge set in a fresh Oklahoma setting. Based on a novel, director Blake Robbins deftly visualizes images in an adaptation made by Casey Twente and, Jeff Robinson. Tweetner’s wife heard about the book while listening to NPR and tracked down the author. “I tried to treat visuals like a complicated jigsaw puzzle,” Robbins relates. The film was shot in 21 days and took full and visually stunning advantage of its location. “The 39% tax break rebate from Oklahoma is what made us move the setting of the book from Kansas,” Robbins says. Co-produced with co-star Maggie Grace, the film is moody and noir.

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All I Want is an ensemble piece. A group of friends attend an anniversary party for two of their own, only to find out the couple is quasi-celebrating a divorce. The comedy-drama gives plenty of space to a large cast, exploring relationships with pleasant abandon. Writer/director/producer West Lang says he and star/co-writer Melissa Center wanted to feature a community of great actors. Center notes “We are all buddies in real life, we’re part of a lab of like-minded actors who are all about the craft.”

Until next year – Dances with Films has turned down the music.

  • Genie Davis; Photos: Jack Burke