This week on Director’s Cut, it’s all about family, as director Mac Smith joins me to discuss Scouts Honor: Inside a Marching Brotherhood. It’s a solid film about a world I admit I knew very little about. Smith, a Hollywood sound professional, took on this passion project to tell a poignant, insightful and heartfelt story.
The full-length documentary looks at the competitive world of drum and bugle corps, where performers must be offered a contract in order to be part of the team.
Smith knows his topic well; he was a Scout himself. The experience was so enriching that, years later, he dedicated a couple years of his life to telling this story.
This week on Director’s Cut, it is my pleasure to welcome accomplished writer/director Rob Cohen to discuss his very funny documentary Being Canadian. Rob’s body of work as a comedy writer is impressive. His writing credits include The Simpsons – he wrote the ‘Flaming Moe’ episode –The Ben Stiller Show & TheBig Bang Theory. Most recently he was working on podcast phenomenon Marc Maron’s show as both writer and director.
Being Canadian is Rob’s love letter to his homeland but was educational for him as well. It is an extremely well-directed and well-produced film, and as with most of Rob’s creations, it’s very funny and very dry. Rob interviewed tons of celebrities, most from Canada and a few from here in the States. The interviews are interesting, funny and set in some crazy locales. As a comedy writer and self proclaimed student of the craft myself for many years, even I was surprised at how many great comedians and writers are from Canada. Their ratio of great comedy writers to actual residents probably far outweighs what we have here and it hurts at little. Well, okay a lot. But at least it’s a little warmer here?
As great an interview as Rob is, he was a great sport too, hanging out to riff and do some improv with me as we delved into his mysterious Hollywood legend that he always downplays. We explored the ‘myths’ of his career like – Is the Milhouse character from the Simpsons really based on you? Did Aimee Mann really write a song that was inspired by you?Is there an action figure from Austin Powers 2 based on your character? And of course Did you really have a classmate named, Peter Poontip? Be sure to check out the web extras for the answers.Continue reading Director’s Cut: Rob Cohen & “Being Canadian”→
This week on Director’s Cut, we welcome writer-producer-actor J.T. Arbogast to discuss his film Angel’s Perch. Arbogast, who makes his home in Los Angeles, hails from West Virginia. It’s a place he is still very fond of and where Angel’s Perch was shot. He was happy to come to Madison to discuss his passion project which hit very close to home and was semi-autobiographical.
Angel’s Perch is about hot-shot architect Jack, who is handed the project of a lifetime. At the same time, he is dealing with the death of his young wife, and his grandmother’s ailing health and dementia. Yes, the film has a lot going on emotionally, but Arbogast and his team pull it off. The plot has a little something for everyone, from young busy professionals more focused on their careers to those who know or have dealt with relatives dealing with a family member with dementia. Arbogast is a good actor and portrays an earnest and compassionate leading man as his story unfolds.
In addition to writing chops, Arbogast has an eye for comedy and a background as well. He studied improv comedy for years and brought his talents to this personal story. Angel’s Perch is peppered with comedy throughout the film and it is well placed. It happens just when the viewer needs a break from heavier plot moments. Angel’s Perch is folksy and will tug on the heart strings just the right amount and make you laugh a little, too. Join us this Saturday night at 10 p.m. for Director’s Cut and Director’s Cut Presents on Wisconsin Public Television…your home for independent film!
This week on Director’s Cut, we welcome actor Mike Batayeh to discuss the film Detroit Unleaded. Mike is a co-lead in the film and while I primarily talk to directors and producers, I think it’s great to get a perspective from an actor’s point of view. Mike is animated and passionate about the film plus has a long list of acting credits.
Detroit Unleaded tells the story of a young Arabic couple who meet at a gas station run by Sami (E.J. Essi) in inner city Detroit. Sami takes over the operation after his father’s death and has bigger dreams. But when he meets Naj, played by the beautiful Nada Shouyahib, it helps ease the pain. Batayeh plays Sami’s cousin who has big entrepreneurial plans for the two of them as they compete with the more upscale, successful station in the neighborhood.Continue reading Director’s Cut: Mike Batayeh & “Detroit Unleaded”→
This week on Director’s Cut we welcome Kristin Catalano, the creative force behind the documentary Clarence. Clarence tells the story of World War II veteran Clarence Garrett who decides to return to college to pursue his degree at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee after “cutting class” for more than 50 years.
It’s hard enough to stay focused on your education after a week-long spring break. Picture yourself returning to the world of academia after fighting in a war, raising a family and having a full career while now being hard of hearing, lacking computer skills and moving at a snail’s pace while going from class to class.
The film is a thumbnail of Clarence’s life, one spent overcoming obstacle after obstacle and doing so the only way Clarence knows how, with a never-say-die, can-do attitude. The story Catalano tells is not only inspiring but also uplifting. Clarence’s infectious personality elevates those around him with his “you’re only here once so why be anything but upbeat” attitude.
Catalano does a nice job of showing how Clarence immerses himself in campus life, making solid friendships with a generation of students at least twice removed from his own and engaging his professors in the process. There is no way anyone can not feel great about life while watching Clarence achieve his long postponed dream after making sacrifices to provide for his family and putting the academic needs of his children before his own.
The biggest challenge for Clarence, and possibly Catalano as director, was when Clarence was hospitalized shortly before completing his first semester, forcing him to fall behind. Clarence takes this in stride as just another of life’s inevitable hurdles. Since quitting never seems to have been an option for Clarence in his life, he pushes on as he has always done, with a determined yet whimsical grace.
Please put the bottle rockets down for an hour or so and join us for Director’s Cut on Wisconsin Public Television 9 p.m. Friday night to celebrate a nice little film about a great, inspiring American. Hope to see you then, indie film fans. Have a fun and safe 4th of July!
This week on Director’s Cut we welcome director David Iverson to discuss his film, Capturing Grace.
Capturing Grace follows several people with Parkinson’s disease and tells the story of what happens when they team up with acclaimed dancers from Brooklyn’s highly regarded Mark Morris Dance Group. Iverson is quite familiar with this debilitating disease. Not only does he suffer from Parkinson’s, his father and brother do as well and his passion for telling this story, and filmmaking in general, are evident from the start of the interview.
Watching people with Parkinson’s dance is fascinating in that those with the most advanced stages seem almost more at ease dancing than sitting still. The most severe case in the film is Cindy, who struggles through sentences when talking and is constantly moving while sitting. Watching her dance so fluidly is fascinating and therapeutic even to the viewer.
One of the other cases in the film is Charlie, a former star athlete and fitness guru. Seeing Charlie embrace dance as an escape and new form of exercise is even more uplifting than it is heartbreaking. The moments of ‘grace’ in this engaging documentary are too many to list.
Iverson is a Wisconsin Public Television alum. He worked as a writer, reporter and executive producer during his time at WPT and it was a pleasure to interview him and to see his excitement for being back in Madison.
He also was the writer, correspondent and co-producer/director of the award-winning 2009 Frontline documentary My Father, My Brother and Mewhich also explores Parkinson’s and his family’s experience with the disease.
His new film, Capturing Grace is as informative as it is entertaining with each character experiencing their own personal triumph of the human spirit. If you or anyone you know has Parkinson’s or if you just appreciate deft storytelling, please join my this Friday night for Director’s Cut. Hope to see you then!
This week, Director’s Cut welcomes Andrew Butts to discuss his film Isthmus of Misfits. This documentary explores Madison’s stand-up comedy scene through the eyes of comics who have been performing for years and others who are just starting out. Despite the fact that the film’s subjects are a bit green, they are not camera shy and are very eager to discuss comedy stylings, theories and venues.
Not only is the energy of the comics the most compelling part of the film, Isthmus of Misfits actually depends on the charisma of its ‘actors.’ That is the definition of a low budget film. Butts had all of the comics sit on the same couch in the same spot and started recording.
From struggling parents, to people working three jobs to recovering addicts, this film definitely captures what it’s like starting out in comedy and pursuing a dream. As a recovering stand-up myself, it was fun to revisit those days of uncertainty and the idea that the whole comedy world awaits you.
Misfits is not fancy or visually stunning by any means, yet Butts does a nice job of bringing out the artist behind the performer in the film. During the interview we welcome two of them to the set – Jackson Jones and Ian John. This is Butts’ first feature length documentary and with his connections to the burgeoning Madison comedy scene, the subject of his first film is a no-brainer. Be sure to check out my interview with Andrew Butts on Director’s Cut this Friday night at 9 on Wisconsin Public Television. Hope to see you then!
This week on Director’s Cut, our guest is filmmaker Bob Murray. Bob is the director and star of his film Date America, which follows Murray as he drives across the country in search of the perfect mate. At first I couldn’t figure out if Bob was just an adventurous auteur or desperate to meet girls. After talking to him, I realized it was a little bit of both.
The film starts in Bob’s hometown of Milwaukee where he goes on the first in a series of blind dates set up over the Internet ahead of time. The film follows Murray and his cab driver — you heard right, cab driver — as he journeys west in search of love. Along the way Murray sets up some very creative and cinematic blind dates, one of which is skydiving. Skydiving is risky in and of itself. If things went awry, it could very well have been the end of Murray’s date, film and life.
Obviously this is a guy who is not afraid to take a chance. Murray has no prior filmmaking experience on-camera or behind it. Bob is a banker by day and made this film on a whim just to do something different, as if blind-dating your way across the country isn’t enough. Despite his lack of experience, Bob Murray is an entertaining enough guy and does a nice job in the lead role despite having no priors.
Mixing the worlds of dating and film making, Date America is a fun ride and will make you appreciate the fact that you have a significant other…or that you don’t. Check out my interview with Bob Murray this Friday night at 9 on Director’s Cut on Wisconsin Public Television and stick around to watch the entire film immediately after. Hope to see you then!
This week on Director’s Cut,we welcome Mark Mederson, director of the film Lifers: A Prison Documentary. Lifers is the well-told story of prisoners serving life sentences without parole. Mederson looks at the lives of several inmates and at the crimes that landed them in prison. In some cases, he explores whether or not the crime equals the time.
The most fascinating storyline in the film is that of Steve Watt, a highway patrolman and one of the victims of a featured lifer. Steve was almost killed after being shot several times by a man in a drug induced state. After years of therapy — both physical and mental — Steve not only forgave the shooter but became best friends with him and tried to get him released from prison. This story alone would make a great film, but it is merely one of the many fascinating and layered stories that Mederson tells.
Mederson is originally from Kentucky but is in the process of getting his Ph.D. in Journalism and Mass Communication from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. He wants to teach and inspire other filmmakers, which I have no doubt he will be successful at. I enjoy talking to filmmakers who also teach and find they stay energized on both fronts as the two professions seem to go hand-in-hand.
Lifers is a can’t miss documentary — even in a season with and abundance of great docs on Director’s Cut! Please join me this Friday night at 9 on Wisconsin Public Television for my interview with Mark. Be sure to stick around for Lifers: A Prison Documentary on Director’s Cut Presents immediately following. Hope to see you then!