Jules in Light and Dark: An Interview with Director Daniel Laabs

Jules in Light and Dark is described by Daniel Laabs, its director, as ” “This was the small film that could, we came from nothing,” as he considers the way his original concept for a film became an idea that Kickstarter Contributors, Investors, and grant-giving organizations all supported at various percentages.

Daniel currently lives in Dallas, TX where he works as an editor and a festival programmer for the Dallas International Film Festival and previously the Oak Cliff Film Festival. In 2014 he co-founded Dallas’s first monthly LGBT film series at the historic Texas Theatre. He currently serves on the Austin Film Society Filmmaker Advisory Council.

We had an opportunity to speak with him before the fest about his passions, his takes on filmmaking, and more importantly, his views on storytelling and audience.

Jules in Light and Dark screens Sunday, June 9 at 6 pm, at Oak Cliff Film Festival

You say this is the little film that could: can you tell me more about your growth process? How did your vision expand from: “I have no idea how x will happen?” to “We did it and the unexpected happened?” 


The tallest hurdle for us was trying to shoot on-location in Pennsylvania. I spend years planning that version of the film and actually relocated out there twice only for production to fall apart at the last minute. One of the creative producers on the team suggested a plan to rebuild production in our backyards and film in Oak Cliff and the surrounding areas. It was an impossible creative transition from my point of view until we really dug in and found that the roots of the characters and stories were inspired by my experiences here in Texas. Once that clicked, the film became a lot more personal, and it was like a wave had washed over what had been built and we went about rebuilding. The story fundamentally changed because of location, but also because of us, we’d grown and the film is a reflection of that.
Oak Cliff and Texas are home to a lot of amazing people. The Texas Theatre is always very supportive of local art. Can you elaborate more on the local end of your journey? 
Every arts community has a hub, be it a bar or park or gallery, where on any given night you’ll meet a new a visual artist, a dancer/choreographer, a actor… and the Texas Theatre has been that and still is that for the Dallas area. There are so many friendships I have built just hanging out there. I spent a brief but lively summer working at Spiral Diner in my first month living in Oak Cliff and made a ton of friends. There are people who worked on the crew that are from that time, but a lot of those friends are in the film as extras.


What would you say your main impetus in filmmaking for this project was?

 
I wanted to try and continue to make personal films as my shorts had been. I didn’t want to take my coming out story and fictionalize it, that wasn’t inspiring to me, I knew I wanted to express some of those feelings of first loves, regret, and show characters reconciling deep private pain in healthy and not so heathy ways. I have always found that I grow more as a filmmaker when my subject feels or is very personal. I put more care into the film, and I fight harder for what matters to me.


Did you have any moments where the project seemed stalled and you had to fight for inspiration, or did it come naturally? 


The hardest part of any independent film is getting over what can’t be done and just doing it. Logistically most of our money came from grants and kickstarter and the rest came from investors who wanted to work with us. That took a lot of time. 


What are you most pleased about with this film and its developments? 


I am most happy with the acting, the cinematography and the way the score works within the narrative. I believe the characters are real people. The cinematography is very pleasing and very close to my paper vision. The score was written and performed by Brent Sluder who is a childhood friend who is just a total natural at crafting moments that weren’t previously there with a single unexpected note. I am also pleased with how it has prepared me to make future films. I tripled my post student onset experience as a director on this film. I have close to two hundred set hours now, before shooting Jules I had maybe fifty accumulated over seven years. How I move through set now is very different than before. I generally know how to trust my gut in ways I couldn’t recognize previously. The difference is knowing how to align variables better in favor of the vision.

What does your end of the LGBTQ community look like? It’s more diverse than people let on.

It feels very much like we are in a renaissance for LGBTQ film at the moment. At the same time I believe it is also a critical time to be making queer film especially set where I live in the South. Jules of Light and Dark is in many ways a film about loneliness and more specifically queer loneliness. It can be extremely isolating to know yourself and feel unwelcome in your surroundings. Growing up in small town texas there wasn’t a clear pathway towards coming out or living openly gay or even having progressive political beliefs for that matter. Things have gotten so much better, but there is still lots of work to do. There are corners of the queer experience that are still unreached by cinema. When you think about the thousands of films made for the straight white perspective in film, it is staggering. We are only just beginning to turn this tide. I long for a day when I go to pitch my queer thriller and it isn’t considered edge-y solely because the main character is gay. I still have a lot of fun with it, but it still happens. When I talk about Jules, I have to mention that it is a LGBTQ film, but I wouldn’t say that it is solely for the audience. It isn’t. I find going to festivals that the audience is very diverse, I almost never feel like I am screening the film to exclusively queer audiences. I am grateful for that because that’s the whole reason I made the film, to open a window on LGBTQ people and communities in small town Texas. It is a modest goal, but it is one that means something to me.

On the Burning of the Cathedral Notre Dame, Catholicism, and Colonization

When the Roman Catholic Church suffers any misfortune, and people have the nerve or freedom to say “it is God’s will,” I can only, in mind, be reminded of the films of the 1980’s and 1990’s that greatly question what the Papal powers and their relationship to the crown meant to the indigenous peoples they colonized in terms of a force of enslavement that profited Europe while equally failing to build a stable society in South America. I’m reminded as much of this as I am Sinead O’Connor tearing up pictures of the pope. The people of France may be troubled by damage to their landmark and less-than-troubled about the continued legacy of neoconglomerate ignored child slavery in its former colonist strongholds in Africa — but I am indigenous and someone whose family line’s rebellion against patriarchy made her a reluctant crypto-Jew in a combinant Catholic-Lutheran pattern that dominates South Chicago and its suburbs–and can’t remain silent.

This is why, today, instead of viewing something more contemporary, I was compelled to watch the 1986 Palme D’or Winner that inspired a good measure of my tastes and desires in storytelling: THE MISSION.

Roland Joffe and Robert Bolt take on a hefty historical narrative in this film which transcends our current senses of post-colonialism. It’s arguable that this film (though it is situated among other narratives that manage to break the mold of hegemonic storytelling of its period) is one of the first that supports the popular exposure of an industrial complex built by entities willing to exploit those most vulnerable to provide the labor that supplies a world of commanding countries with commodities that will not grow in their soils with little benefit to countries of origin.

Examining the politics of a pro-slavery Portugal attempting to take on free-born Spanish colonized indigenous tribes taught to do skilled labor as field slaves are laid bare in a breathtakingly composed epic shot on location in Colombia starring  Robert De NiroJeremy Irons, and Ray McAnally are more complicated in 2019 than one might suppose. Considering the U.S.’s own political implications with undocumented workers since the Eisenhower administration and the problematic landscape this has caused vis a vis American Military Action and Food and Factory Production, its message is enduring.

The notion that Pontiffs, Heads of State, and Tribal/Labor Leaders must always be at odds is deeply ingrained in our culture down to the systems that seed our identities — in Law, Religion, and Culture. The misfortune that is a society that develops on the exploitation of the indigenous rather than cooperation with them is palpable in the sweeping scenes that cinematographer Chris Menges composes and Jim Clarkintersperses to music written by
Ennio Morricone.

If only the hope of Reagan’s aspiration to the field of Humanities and President George W. Bush’s desire for programs to create amnesty and documentation were fully realized — we might know a situation better than the current one we can only properly call “The Great American Auschwitz.” Hundreds of thousands of people with indigenous ancestry are displaced from their countries of origin to feed the monster called “La Bestia,” while the Trump Administration posits they should be placed in the very Blue Dot cities that could not possibly abuse workers that are not marginalized to the same degree — and absolutely no one thinks of their integration seriously enough — as two administrations have built detainment camps and internment tent cities to contain the displaced.

It is refreshing to view anything at all dealing with this sense of politic — in the classic humanist storytelling arc the “profitable” World Epic has replaced in recent times. I will return to reviewing films from Dallas International Film Fest tomorrow after a sanity break.

I have found the substance I seek by traveling back in time to a more humanist period. I feel revived. Perhaps the systems of art and film production might additionally be so upon inspection.

My language may seem strong, in retrospect to some, I suppose, but I don’t mince words when it comes to what Eisenhower warned us about vis-a-vis the military industrial complex and the complex relationship Neo-Liberal policies have with world governments in terms of “worker supply.” It’s not far from AUSCHWITZ if you’re getting raped with no paycheck and living in a dirt dugout while state police look to detain and deport you if you don’t end up shot by Border Patrol. It’s no different in Africa, or any place this terrifying institution that molded any truth about what Early Christianity might have been as a Jewish Reform Movement to its image has touched.

Update: Walt Disney Corporation has offered to donate a large portion of funds necessary to repair damage at Notre Dame, which is its prerogative–but few are willing to actually untangle Cote D’Ivorie.

Always in Season: A Mother’s Quest for Justice in a Broken Country

17-year-old Lennon Lacy is found hanging from a swing set in rural North Carolina. The community is unsure how he got there, but it’s reminiscent of the KKK hangings they’ve witnessed in the past despite assurance from local law enforcement that the condition was self-inflicted.

Jaqueline Olive takes the viewer on a journey through fear in the American South in this riveting documentary.

Jaqueline’s tenure of more than a decade of experience in journalism and film are a clear tribute to her storytelling ability. This film premiered in the U.S. Documentary Competition at the 2019 Sundance Film Festival and was awarded the Special Jury Prize for Moral Urgency.

Lacy’s mother and her quest for truth leads a town and a nation to think about its trajectory toward determining justice without regard to race, color or creed in this film that explores the impact of more than a century of lynching in the American South as it still inspires racial violence in the present day.

Moving scenes of women standing on bridges that the Klu Klux Klan tag with graffiti give way to moving confessions of people who admit their society has not given them justice.

As Lennon’s girlfriend, who had a drug addiction and several paramours with a criminal history pontificates on how he seemed much “older than a teenager,” it’s almost startling. It’s certainly revealing. How often do we think innocent men are older than their years because of social perception and a failing in a culture ignorant enough to potentially hang them?

See this mastery of narrative documentary storytelling co-presented by Denton Black Film Festival for its second screening on Wednesday, April 17th at 1:00pm at the Landmark Magnolia

Dualities and Empathy: A Fortunate Man in Review

Life is full of dualities, many of which push and pull A Fortunate Man’s Peter Andreas in
opposite directions. The clashes between science and faith, love and lust, the poor and the
rich, and autonomy versus authority are largely present throughout the film, leading
Andreas to dark places despite the opportunity to make his wildest dreams come true. His
ambition to become an engineer with revolutionary projects under his belt forces him to
experience life in tunnel vision, causing damage to almost everyone he encounters.
It’s reasonable—easy, even—for one to feel empathetic for Andreas because of how
blatantly his family dismisses him from the film’s beginning. It’s understandable why he
wants to escape his religious upbringing and low social class, all made unbearable by his
father, a clergyman who enforces a patriarchal household ruled by God. Most of all, it’s
clear how his childhood and the people around him influence him to act the way he does
and why he deceives people to promote his own agenda.
It does not, however, justify any of his actions.
“There are people who are drawn to disaster,” Andreas states near the end of the film. A
nod to the religious, he scorns those who view God as their source of liberation because, to
him, it’s a site of wishful thinking and hopelessness. In likening religion to disaster, he fails
to realize that disasters can appear unexpectedly and completely upend people’s lives,
much like he does. In trying to make his wind turbines and canal systems a reality, he
destroys marriages, tarnishes reputations, and perpetuates the same abandonment and
alienation that his family forced him to experience.

Throughout the film, Andreas views God as his worst enemy when, in reality, the true
culprit is his own pride. It’s the common factor of all his dualities and what unknowingly
causes him grief for much of the film. A Fortunate Man is a tragic portrait of Andreas’
unraveling. To follow him on his journey of trials and tribulations is to be in a constant
state of frustration because he does the exact opposite of what’s best for him, causing him
to spiral further and further.
Consequently, the film forces you to reflect on your own dualities with the hopes that your
life is more balanced than Andreas’ so as to avoid his unfortunate fate because—as it
goes—fortune favors fools.


Le Tang is a Filmmaker, Photographer, and Designer based in Dallas, TX. Having graduated from U.C. Santa Barbara with a Film and Media Studies B.A. she enjoys analyzing films and studying stills.

Le has a penchant for capturing the mundane with her camera and and bombarding people with questions about their life and craft.

Video Association of Dallas to Receive $10,000 Grant from the National Endowment for the Arts

[Dallas]—National Endowment for the Arts Acting Chairman Mary Anne Carter has approved more than $27 million in grants as part of the Arts Endowment’s first major funding announcement for the fiscal year 2019.  Included in this announcement is an Art Works grant of $10,000 to Video Association of Dallas for Dallas VideoFest’s 32nd season. Art Works is the Arts Endowment’s principal grantmaking program. The agency received 1,605 Art Works applications for this round of grantmaking and will award 972 grants in this category.

“The arts enhance our communities and our lives, and we look forward to seeing these projects take place throughout the country, giving Americans opportunities to learn, to create, to heal, and to celebrate,” said Mary Anne Carter, acting chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts. 

“The opportunities, which the receipt of the NEA grant will provide in expanding the outreach of VideoFest 32 to the community and serve our mission, are much valued and appreciated,” said Jeff Leuschel, board president of the Video Association of Dallas and Dallas VideoFest.

DALLAS VIDEOFEST
VideoFest (VideoFest.org) is now the oldest and largest video festival in the United States and continues to garner critical and popular acclaim. VideoFest prides itself on bringing films to the theater that are rarely available to be seen anywhere else. VideoFest has included screenings varying from cat videos to Expanded Cinema on the walls of the Downtown Dallas Omni Hotel. Films like Experimental/Art Films through its Dallas Medianale, Animation, Narrative and Documentary Shorts, as well as Documentary and Narrative Features and some hard-to-find Classic TV episodes and Classic Film including Silent Films are often in the mix.

MISSION OF DALLAS VIDEOFEST
The mission of the Dallas VideoFest is to promote an understanding of video as a creative medium and cultural force in our society and to support and advance the work of Texas artists working in video and the electronic arts.  Dallas VideoFest is a 501(c)(3) organization incorporated on April 25, 1989, under Video Association of Dallas.  It began in 1986 as a weekend event, “Video As A Creative Medium,” presented at the Dallas Museum of Art by independent curators, Barton Weiss and John Held.

That first event, which included two nights of video by selected local and national video artists, was a great popular success, which led to the founding of the Dallas Video Festival in 1987. Dallas VideoFest also presents the 24-Hour Video Race, North Texas Universities Film Festival, Dallas Medianale, Three Star Cinema, and other programs throughout the year.

Born Just Now chronicles the life and times of Marta Jovanović, as she makes dangerous art her society does not quite know how to value.

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A figure stands on stilts, or a raised platform, in a long white gown. Silent. Waiting. Buckets of hearts from slaughtered pigs are handed to a crowd. One by one, hurled in a seemingly unending fury they pelt the concept artist until she is handed a single rose still very much in the bud stage. The work is called “Ljubav.” It is the Serbian word for Love.

This is one in a series of concepts presented that critique, in some fashion, the role of women in Serbian society presented by the artist and her students, who all struggle to fund their art and find footing in communities that only value limited roles and functioning for women.

Robert Adanto’s Born Just Now chronicles the life and art of Marta Jovanović as she surveys the pain of a nation in turmoil and her own experienced body trauma from relationship abuse through the contemporary Serbian Avant Garde scene. Her acquaintances critique her motives over restaurant conversation. What she is doing is decidedly “out of the norm.”

“The art that you do, that is performance art, does not mesh with what most people consider performance in this environment,” she is told over drinks by Vladislav Scepanović, a noted artist and curator. He represented Serbia at the last Venice Biennale.  He elaborates that it’s not private enough — and far too publicized. It’s almost as if he is speaking about the public and private divide themselves.

The film opens with the artist smashing hundreds of eggs suspended from the ceiling in gauze tubes with a hammer, yolk dripping down on her in a harshly lit enclosed performance space. It signifies wasted years of reproduction, in the pursuit of art and is performed “quite publicly.” Marta hangs one for each time she has ovulated and not conceived.

In explaining that her body and her devotion to art kept her from reproduction, in what might be a beneficial confluence of events, considering her husband’s malice for failure to fulfill her “role,” and a society that seems rather indifferent to her pain, Jovanović takes on the situation of many female artists, or even women doing anything else but having children, situated in patriarchies. Unacceptance. Frivolity. Wasted funds and space.

Jovanović examines her family’s place as a blended Muslim and Jewish postwar formation under Tito’s regime and her relationship to her grandfather who worshiped the dictator. She explains like she felt his ghost — and chooses a burial location close to Tito’s grave for his remains as she explains the art of others in the contemporary scene and students she coaches. Sewn mouths, bodies and sugar mattresses as endurance works complement torched white wedding dresses.

Adanto’s brilliant take on pacing, storytelling, and the emotional composition of a scene makes this documentary beyond riveting — as it exists as a tale of endurance and strength in expression in an age of increasingly curtailed liberties for women.

Drawing out emotional moments and allowing the pace of situational art to grab his camera are his gifts. In capturing moments of pain transformed into strange beauty he meaningfully shares the story of one woman, of many women, fighting for acceptance in their rebellion.

Born Just Now can be seen at the upcoming Fort Lauderdale International Film Festival on the following dates:


WHEN: Sunday, November 4th at 8:00 PM

WHERE: The Savor Cinema, 503 SE 6th Street, Fort Lauderdale, FL

WHEN: Saturday, November 10th at 9:00 PM

WHERE: Cinema Paradiso Hollywood, 2008 Hollywood Blvd, Hollywood, FL

Robert Adanto’s new art documentary BORN JUST NOW offers an intimate look at Marta Jovanović, a Belgrade-based performance artist struggling to cope with the violence that has ended an eight-year marriage. Daring to live on her own terms, Jovanović has chosen art and art-making over marriage and abuse. Through provocative acts of endurance exploring intimacy, motherhood, and the trauma of the Balkan wars, Jovanović seeks to confront, release, and liberate her own pain in the name of art. This personal portrait is a moving meditation on what it means to be a fearless female artist living in the 21st century. Through Jovanović’s words and performances, the story of contemporary women’s ongoing struggle for equality emerges.

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The film participated in the Sundance Institute Documentary Program’s Rough-Cut Lab in Miami.

Featuring: Marta Jovanović, Ivana Ranisavljević, Kathy Battista, Ph.D., Director of Contemporary Art, Sotheby’s Institute of Art, NY; Anja Foerschner, Senior Researcher, The Getty Research Institute, Los Angeles; Milica Pekić, Art Historian and Curator, Belgrade; Jovo Bakić, Ph.D., University of Belgrade; Vladislav Scepanović, artist; and Jean-Daniel Ruch, Swiss Ambassador to Serbia and to Montenegro.

 

The First Man American Flag Controversy

Much has been made about the controversy surrounding the lack of Ryan Gosling’s Neil
Armstrong placing the American flag on the moon in Damien Chazelle’s just unleashed
First Man.

The outrage has led to massive 1-star ratings and user reviews on IMDB from people
who have yet to see the film. If the lack of the flag being placed on the moon are the
worst thing to happen in a film, it’s massively telling for the point America has reached
as a nation. Yet these people seem to have no problems with the awful problems that our
nation faces today.

The problem is that people are more than willing to pre-judge a film before it hits
theaters. I understand judging those films with abusers in them because I’ve done the
same and won’t stop that anytime soon. But what do these protesters have to say about
First Man when Armstrong’s own family is defending the film?

One excerpt of a statement from Armstrong’s sons, Rick and Matt, and author James
Hansen says everything we need to know about their feelings:

“Although Neil didn’t see himself that way, he was an American hero. He was also an
engineer and a pilot, a father and a friend, a man who suffered privately through great
tragedies with incredible grace. This is why, though there are numerous shots of the
American flag on the moon, the filmmakers chose to focus on Neil looking back at the
earth, his walk to Little West Crater, his unique, personal experience of completing this
journey, a journey that has seen so many incredible highs and devastating lows.”

This film, they say, should not be seen as anti-American. Give First Man a chance. I
know that I will.

29134970_10102083915109720_1906448420_nDanielle Solzman is a film critic and a member of the Chicago Independent Film Critics Circle, Galeca: The Society of LGBTQ Entertainment Critics, Alliance of Women Film Journalists, and the Online Film & Television Association. She also writes for Solzy at the Movies.

 

Sarah Mondale; Director of Backpack Full of Cash — holds out on elaborating on some education concerns in her film.

Sarah Mondale, the director of Backpack Full of Cash, has created a film that’s meant to spark some impressive conversations. She and I had one recently, despite some malfunctioning equipment. 

So to attempt to elucidate some deep elements of our conversation that she stated “weren’t in the film” and “weren’t what she usually spoke about” . . . she as a filmmaker, and I in my strange combinant dedication in filmmaking, Texas politics and publishing talked about our experiences with publicly-funded charters and our concerns both financial and ideological/structural with these institutions.

Sarah’s greatest concern eclipsed my usual attention paid to line-items paid out to nebulous administrators contributing questionable items of technology and curricula. She denoted that some charters, specifically requested by parents who wanted a more “reformatory” or “punitive” style of education to reach their children they were worried were on the wrong track.

I will admit that this element within all forms of education concerns me too, especially when it is aimed at minority populations. It’s troubling when other areas are primed for the to-prison pipeline, ideologically, and students of all backgrounds aren’t given what they need to thrive intellectually and physically, in trade and post-secondary training.

I regret I cannot bring you her direct words because of an equipment glitch — but I can say this — she is worth hearing speak more than once at your state convention, a private screening, or a phone call if she has time to grant it.

Host a screening of hers yourself (and potentially hear her speak) by contacting her at http://www.backpackfullofcash.com/host/

Danielle Solzman Weighs In: The Proposed Oscar Changes Are Nonsense

The proposed changes by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences may be one of
the single-worst decisions in the organization’s history.

In 2009, the Academy decided to expand from five to ten Best Picture nominees in the
hopes of nominating popular films. This came following a backlash to The Dark Knight
not being nominated. While director Christopher Nolan is a critical darling, the film was
passed over by the Academy for Best Picture considerations. The film would win two
Oscars and receive a number of technical nominations.

The five films that did get Oscar nominations in 2008 were Frost/Nixon, The Reader,
Slumdog Millionaire, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, and Milk. These films
combined for $353,486,991 at the box office to The Dark Knight’s $533,345,348.
Despite an Oscar nomination, Frost/Nixon couldn’t even finish in the top 100 films at the
box office.

Once the changes were made for the next year, it’s hard to say which films benefited.
Avatar got a lot of nominations purely for its technical achievements alone. But come the
summer of 2011, the experiment was over. The Academy decided to award no less than
five but no more than ten films as a result.

The Best Popular Film idea seems to be nothing more than a ratings ploy at best. But
how do you decide the criteria for what constitutes the most popular film? IMDB
ratings? Most fresh reviews on Rotten Tomatoes? The number of people tweeting a
film’s hashtag? Twitter followers? Facebook likes? The Academy is going to have a lot
of questions to answer about this.

All of this nonsense notwithstanding, the Academy made even more moves. They are
aiming for a three-hour broadcast so they’re going to cut a few awards and air edited
speeches in broadcast. If it were me, I’d be the person talking after the music stopped
playing and would go on until after the commercial break! I hate that the Critics’ Choice
and SAG Awards release some of their winners during the red carpet. It’s not fair to
those films and people nominated.

The Oscars can and should do better. Most importantly, they need to reverse this
nonsense. It didn’t take well on social media. To quote the great Groucho, I’m against
it!

29134970_10102083915109720_1906448420_nDanielle Solzman is a film critic and a member of the Chicago Independent Film Critics Circle, Galeca: The Society of LGBTQ Entertainment Critics, Alliance of Women Film Journalists, and the Online Film & Television Association. She also writes for Solzy at the Movies.

Will Braden speaks about the philosophical differences between Cats and Dogs, a new DVF31 PawFest Reel — and his enduring YouTube video, Henri.

Will Braden of CatVideoFest spoke with us about the different feel a dog video has in anticipation of DVF31’s PawFest this week.



Playing Texas Theatre on Aug 23, CatFest has expanded to include dogs. Take a refreshing break from the dog days of summer to watch some funny, heart-melting, videos of adorable felines and canines. Dogs and cats – those age-old rivals for humans’ love, have been spotted pitter-pattering up and down across the country and around the world.

#PAWFest features a new selection of videos curated by Will Braden, the creator of the HENRI, LE CHAT NOIR videos and curator of the original CatVideoFest.com selections featured two years ago in Dallas VideoFest’s first foray into CatFest, and Bart Weiss for the local component.

The evening’s screening will feature approximately 100 cat and/or dog videos culled from videos in the categories of Comedy, Drama, Animated, Musical, Action, Vintage, and Documentary.