Aly Migliori & Amanda Sophia Ebert, photo by Isadora Pennington 2015.

New Mavericks: Aly Migliori & Amanda Sophia Ebert

Aly & Amanda, photo by Isadora Pennington

Aly Migliori & Amanda Sophia Ebert, photo by Isadora Pennington 2015.

Distance makes the heart grow fonder, so they say. But of course, that isn’t always the case. In the film Knightsville, director Aly Migliori examines what can happen when the home you grew up in doesn’t quite feel like home anymore.

Knightsville tells the story of a young woman who has moved away from her Italian-American neighborhood, family and culture. The main character, Sara, played by Amanda Sophia Ebert, returns home for a traditional Catholic festival, only to be faced with the realization that she feels foreign in her familial home.

“In having familiar feelings placed within a particular Italian-American community, I hoped that Knightsville’s success was not the newness of this world, but rather the transcending commonality of human experiences,” said Aly.

Knightsville, I hope, captures a universal story within a unique world.”

Amanda Sophia is a newcomer to working in film, a fact that doesn’t deter from a strong and emotionally present performance on screen. “Aly and I met on set of the first film I’d ever shot and I was drawn to her instantly,” said Amanda. “Once we started spending time together regularly, I wanted badly to work with her on another film. Now I consider her family.”

Coming from a background of stage acting, Amanda adapted her performance style to embrace a more naturalistic screen presence. She set out with a goal of becoming more comfortable in front of the camera, and was emboldened by her faith in Aly as a director. “As the process went on, though, it became really important to me to tell the story of the community of Knightsville,” said Amanda, “because the sense of pride and tradition is so strong and so special.”

Ultimately, I believe that some of Amanda’s newness to the Italian-American culture in Knightsville added a level of authenticity to her portrayal of otherness that the main character, Sara, feels upon her return to her hometown.

“I loved getting to know and see the town of Knighstville. It sounds cliche but the end is always hard for me; it’s sad to let go of a character you’ve worked so hard to build that has become such a part of you,” said Amanda. The experience of participating in this production has clearly affected her beyond just the necessary memorization of lines and blocking, leaving her with a connection to those she worked with and the story that she told.

When asked what part of the process she finds the most enjoyable, Aly told me that it was working with others that stood out in her mind. “My favorite part is collaborating, and lucky for filmmakers, collaboration happens from pre-production on through the festival circuit.”

Collaboration doesn’t just happen on the smaller scale within the cast and crew, but can also expand to enlist help from a variety of outside sources. “To have the entire community come together to facilitate the production of this film, from allowing us to stage the parade with the actual Madonna Della Civita statue to letting us have our own float in the actual parade, that was the most enlivening experience of all,” Aly told me.

I asked Aly whether she thought that being a female director had any impact on the result of the film and her acceptance within the community that she filmed. “I think being a female in film is a great opportunity,” she said. “I am aligned with a different perspective than the standard film, and in embodying that view in my work, I give my films a nontraditional narrative and voyeurism.”

Aly is also a member of the NY chapter of Film Fatales, a female directing group founded by Leah Meyerhoff, who was also a producer on Knightsville. Aly explained that the group seeks to foster an ever-growing community of women directors. It was through her connections to this group that she was able to cast Gina Piersanti and Altagracia Guzman, as well. But the group does more than just connect the pieces between like-minded women in the film industry, it has a larger purpose as well.

“It also asks the film community at large to acknowledge the successes and talents from female directors, while challenging the industry to do something about it,” said Aly.

The goals set forth from the Film Fatales group fit in quite nicely with the intentions of the Atlanta based New Mavericks organization, as well. Knightsville was screened as a part of the New Mavericks programming at the 2015 Atlanta Film Festival, and Aly and Amanda were able to attend screenings, meetings, and make connections with other female film professionals.

“My favorite experience was the New Mavericks dinner and shorts block,” Aly told me. “Having the opportunity to be onstage with brilliant, creative, and empowered women only serves further to inspire me. I look forward to a time where this is not a novelty, but I thank Atlanta Film Festival for recognizing now the need to showcase films not only directed by women, but featuring female protagonists.”

So, what’s next for these two? Aly is currently working on writing the feature-length film version of Knightsville, a project that she says will carry elements from this initial short film. “And I’m taking Amanda with me,” Aly said. “She doesn’t have a choice.”

As for Amanda, her current projects include production and acting in a play called Closer as well as working towards launching a women’s web magazine, among other film and theater projects. “I will absolutely work with Aly in the future, hopefully on Knightsville as a feature,” said Amanda.

Knightsville has screened at the Atlanta Film Festival, Nashville Film Festival, Sarasota Film Festival, Maryland Film Festival, IFF Boston, Minneapolis Saint Paul International Film Festival, and Skyway Film Festival. You can see a trailer online and learn more about the film by going to their website.

-Is

Brantly Jackson Watts

New Maverick: Brantly Jackson Watts

Brantly Jackson Watts

Brantly Jackson Watts, photo by Isadora Pennington, 2015.

Recently, I met local producer and creative Brantly Jackson Watts. Brantly served as moderator during the all-female panel, Filminism, for the Creative Conference of the 2015 Atlanta Film Festival. The event took place in Little 5 Points at the 7 Stages theater on Friday, March 27th. Surprisingly, the audience at the event was quite gender diverse- in fact about 50/50 female and male, “I was pleasantly surprised,” she said.
 _
Brantly told me of her past experiences with the festival, when she showed her film AKA Blondie back in 2012. The production had taken 3 years and had required that she and her husband be immersed and involved with the Atlanta icon Blondie, or Anita Rae Strange, a dancer at the infamous Clermont Lounge on Ponce. The film sold out two screenings and received a standing ovation, making a lasting impression upon Brantly. “I’m not sure that I will ever personally experience another premiere of that magnitude,” she said. “It was amazing.”
  _
Brantly is a local Atlanta writer, producer and marketing professional. Her project, the Homespun Series, has received nationwide attention by showcasing local filmmakers and hearkening back to what makes Atlanta such an amazing scene for film professionals. Brantly has always been interested in “the ideologies found in the different feminist movements.” She has experienced and observed some of the differences between the reception of women as opposed to men in the film industry. “As a female filmmaker, I have definitely experienced challenges that face women,” she told me, noting her education in feminist studies as an influence on her approach to the topic.
  _ 
“I think many people are scared of the word ‘feminist,’ however many people who delve into the movement learn that they were already a feminist and didn’t know it,” Brantly said. The discussion was lively and encouraging, breeding connections, community support, and a thoughtful approach to a somewhat sensitive topic. “My hope for the New Mavericks program and for the Filminism panel, is that more women in Atlanta will have the confidence to create their own work, using their own unique voice,” she explained.
  _
“When the Atlanta Film Festival approached me about moderating an all female panel during the creative conference, I immediately accepted,” Brantly said of Filminism. The event was a panel discussion during this year’s Creative Conference, and set out to start an open dialogue about facilitating the changes that need to occur for women in the film industry to network and encourage about the struggles they face in the current market.
  _
Beyond the panel, Brantly has also gotten involved with the New Mavericks program on a more permanent basis. The program was born when she got together with local filmmakers Jen West, Lane Skye, and Robyn Hicks to discuss the Atlanta film community. The motive behind this undertaking was to enable and encourage their peers, “specifically, how could we support women in the local community to achieve a strong voice in the industry,” she explained.
  _
Despite the newness of this program, Brantly remains confident in the importance of its cause. “Through planned screenings, programs and events New Mavericks will highlight women involved in various aspects of the film industry,” she said. This collaboration and effort has resulted in a program bursting with talent and potential. “I am honored to serve as the program’s first Chair,” she said, and indeed I have seen her passion and commitment to this program through our discussions during the festival.
  _
Though the New Mavericks program is still early in development, the team is hoping to garner honest discussion about the topic and to get a feel for the needs of the community. They have a survey which can be found here, and the group plans to customize the program according to Atlanta’s needs. You can also follow New Mavericks on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram to hear about upcoming events and to get involved.
  _
-Isadora
Meryem Benm'Barek

New Maverick: Meryem Benm’Barek

Meryem Benm'Barek

Meryem Benm’Barek, photo by Isadora Pennington, 2015.

Jennah, a short film by filmmaker Meryem Benm’Barek, explores the struggles of a girl on the cusp of womanhood. The film was shot in Brussels for her thesis project at INSAS (Institut national supérieur des arts du spectacle et des techniques de diffusion), a film school in Belgium.

“The idea of Jennah crossed my mind about questions that come up to women naturally,” Meryem said. The film follows a girl as she reaches, “that that in-between moment” when she transitions from childhood to womanhood. It is in this time that Jennah faces her concept of femininity as shaped by her mother and when faced with an absent father figure. “Jennah is in that age where she is realizing the complexity of what it means to face the world as a young woman,” Meryem told me.

The dynamic of seeking validation with men caused by a lack of a fatherly connection during this pivotal time in a girl’s life is familiar to Meryem, who herself had experienced some challenges in the absence of her own father as a young woman. In Jennah she explores the actions and connections that create lasting change in larger ways when sorting out what exactly it means to be a woman. “I do not pretend to universalize that thought,” Meryem said, “or to generalize it because each life story is different… but having myself grown up in an almost similar pattern I wanted to explore these aspects of a teenager’s life.”

As with any film of similar circumstances, Meryem encountered occasional problems or issues, but the end result was a window into a moment of change in this young woman’s life that has gained significant attention and praise. “I think we always choose to tell the stories that look like us,” Meryem said of her motivation to take on this coming of age story.

“Being on the set is always my favorite part in a movie’s creation,” Meryem told me. It’s when the cameras are on and the team is working together that she feels the most in her element as a filmmaker. Her voice rings the loudest and truest when expressed through cameras, lights, and sound. “I completely feel myself because I am more comfortable with that tools than with words,” she said. The production itself was low-budget, filmed with a crew of loyal and resourceful individuals who were all committed to the final outcome of the project.

On Saturday, March 28, Meryem won an award for Jennah as part of the 2015 Atlanta Film Festival. The film was selected and shown during the New Mavericks shorts block at the Plaza Theater. New Mavericks is a new series of hand-selected films that feature strong female protagonists and are filmed by female directors. Meryem was presented with an award made by R. Land for the festival and was honored during the Awards Brunch at the Highland Ballroom.

“It’s a great experience for me who comes from Europe to have that opportunity to show my work in Atlanta,” Meryem said of the Fest. Participating in the festival offered her an opportunity to show her work to a large international audience and to network with like-minded filmmakers. The New Mavericks program in particular has been a welcoming experience for Meryem, who said “there is no competition here, just people who create and share their own voices with some other artists.”

I asked Meryem what is next for her, and she told me that she is currently working on her first feature length film, set to be shot in France, Morocco and Spain. She described the plot as “a kind of contemporary and very realistic fairy tale, a love story on the road.” Meryem also wants to film a story about a brother and sister based in Morocco, aiming “to show the underground part of that country in order to break some existing prejudices that are often shown about Arabic countries.” Additionally she hopes to work on a project based in America, potentially based in New York City. It’s clear that she is an incredibly motivated and passionate artist, and I doubt we have seen the last of Meryem and her films.

To learn more about Jennah and Meryem, check out twitter and click here to watch the trailer.

-Isadora

New Mavericks: Ana Maria + Luisa

Ana Maria & Luisa

Ana Maria Hermida and Luisa Casas, photo by Isadora Pennington, 2015.

The Firefly, or La Luciernaga, is a film written, directed and co-produced by Ana Maria Hermida. The story follows the journey of a woman in mourning who finds comfort in an unlikely ally. Ana Maria and Luisa Casas, co-producer, sat down with me to discuss their film. “I came up with this idea about five years ago after going through a mourning process myself,” Ana Maria told me. She fell into a period of depression after losing her brother with whom she was very close in a tragic car accident in 2007. “It was a very dark time in my life,” she recalled. “I didn’t know who I was or what I wanted.”

Shortly after the accident her late brother’s long-term girlfriend got in touch and the two women connected over their shared sadness. The two began spending a lot of time together and helped one another heal while sharing in the mutual love of Ana Maria’s late brother. Helping his bereaved girlfriend, in her own words, “gave me strength” as Ana Maria processed her feelings. “It really is a fictional piece but it came from something that happened in real life,” she said of the storyline.

The Firefly could be described as a love story, but “it’s kind of a love that goes beyond boundaries, because neither of these women are attracted to women,” said Ana Maria. It’s a story about friendship, often expressed through nonverbal cues and creative use of actions like slurping a coffee that hint at the real experiences of Ana Maria in her personal friendships.

In the film, Ana Maria pulls from folklore and analogies to convey the emotions of the main character, Lucia. “I wanted to play with magic realism, but it’s kind of goth magic realism,” she said, a term that she has invented and feels is applicable to the story. The Firefly plays with classic archetypes expressed through dreams, including that of Catrina, the Mexican representative of death. “She sees herself as this dark being,” Ana Maria said of Lucia, citing this analogy as the reason for the name of the film, “but she reflects light in her dreams, she lights them up.”

The connection between Ana Maria and Luisa was initially forged nearly 15 years ago when Ana Maria first moved to America and shared an English class with Luisa here in Atlanta. Oddly enough, though they were very close as friends, it took many years for them to begin talking about film and working on them together. “We were very close friends,” Luisa said, “but we never talked about film.” It was a fruitful revelation when they realized their shared interests, and thus the collaboration was born.

“I fell in love with the story,” said Luisa of her choice to come on board. In addition to a solid script complete with true-to-life references to female friendships, Ana Maria had also planned to film it in Colombia, the country where both women were born. “Because I am Colombian I feel as a filmmaker I want to show how beautiful and magical it is.” This piqued Luisa’s interest because she is also quite interested in filming in Colombia and is currently working towards at least one additional film set in the area.

“It’s funny because even though Colombia is our country and we thought it will be easier because we are from there, it was just as hard as if we were shooting in Romania,” Luisa laughed, recounting some of the challenges. Though they had a few resources in the areas where they were shooting, being outsiders in their settings sometimes posed a problem logistically.

“I think because we had so much fun we forgot about the problems we had,” Luisa said, because “everything that could go wrong, did go wrong.” Somehow despite the odds they managed to solve each problem they encountered with the help of their crew. “They are helping you, they are part of your film’s success,” Luisa said, making a point of how important it is to treat the crew with respect. “If you don’t care about them, they won’t care about you.”

Sometimes, the inherent differences of working under a female director and producer became apparent and created lasting connections as well. “Being a female producer, we are more nurturing with the crew,” Luisa told me. They found themselves often asking their team “‘how are you doing? are you hungry? what do you need?'” The attention to the crew’s well-being paid off, and together they overcame the challenges that they faced during filming. “We always found a solution because the crew loved us. We always treat our crew with respect,” Luisa said with conviction.

“It’s important for us to have fun on set,” Ana Maria told me. “As a director I try to make my set fun and free spirited and open for inspiration.” It’s the time when she feels the most herself and the most relaxed, but is also unfortunately often the shortest part of the process. Although admittedly challenging at times, and complete with long hours and arduous work, working on this production was rewarding for them. “We were tired, but it was so awesome,” Ana Maria said. “We had difficulties but I don’t even remember because we had so much fun.”

Both Ana Maria and Luisa have a variety of projects currently in the works, and the two plan to work together again in the future. To learn more about The Firefly, follow them on Twitter.

-Isadora

Alexandria Bombach and Mo Scarpelli

New Mavericks: Alexandria Bombach + Mo Scarpelli

Alexandria Bombach and Mo Scarpelli

Alexandria Bombach and Mo Scarpelli, photo by Isadora Pennington 2015

Frame by Frame is a feature length documentary detailing the daily challenges and the persistent passions of photojournalists in Afghanistan. The film follows four photographers as they traverse the relatively unexplored professional landscape of media in Afghanistan following the end of Taliban rule. The country has undergone a variety radical changes, transitions, chaos and destruction throughout the last 30 years. A casualty, among many, is the profession of the photojournalist.

In 1996, when the Taliban took over Afghanistan, photography became a punishable offense. Not only did photography through public media suffer in this major shift, there was also widespread destruction of family and historic photographs, leaving an entire culture bereft of visual depictions of their personal history. It is small, defiant groups like the one depicted in Frame by Frame which strive to reset the standard of photojournalism and photography to their rightful place in society. They seek to provide an outlet for showcasing the reality of life in modern day Afghanistan, both the good and the bad, in essence to be the voice of their people.

The other day I had the chance to sit down and speak with co-directors Alexandria Bombach and Mo Scarpelli about this film and their process. “We thought this was going to be a short, but it smacked us in the face and we knew it had to be a feature,” Alexandria said, telling me that it was after she had been given some b-roll footage depicting daily life in Afghanistan that she became intrigued with the culture, country and history. In Alexandria’s words, this film explores “a whole new era for Afghanistan, as they are reclaiming their identity” after years of conflict. The pair finds it important to revisit Afghanistan and its people from a new perspective “after many years of being defined by the west,” Alexandria said, indicating that often all of Afghanistan is portrayed in American mainstream media with negative connections to terrorist organizations. “Instead of always hearing it through an outsider’s perspective,” Alexandria explained, they chose to feature photographers already operating within the community because “they are shaping a narrative themselves.”

Alexandria had worked with Mo on projects before Frame by Frame, and at first Mo came on board strictly as a shooter. However, during the course of the initial filming it became apparent that the duo were both committed to the outcome of this piece. Following a successful Kickstarter campaign, in her own words, Mo “joined as co-director, co-producer… co-everything.” Alexandria laughed, “Co-co-co, I like coco.” The two are obviously well matched, and have shared and experienced quite a bit in the production of this film.

In addition to the physical challenges posed by the traveling and filming within Afghanistan, the exhaustion of long hours shooting depleted their energy. Yet beyond any illness or fatigue, they carried on knowing that their message was important enough to the subjects of the film were willing to risk their own well-being. Though the tides have been steadily shifting in favor of free press, there are still many very real dangers involved with publicly stating one’s affiliation with photography or photojournalism within the culture.

“One thing that was important for us to include in this film is that this is such a special unprecedented time in Afghanistan- they have never had this much time to build up an independent press,” Mo noted. This tenuous position in history leads many citizens to feel at the same time hopeful and anxious about the future. “You can feel among the Afghans the tension of what could happen, the uncertainty,” said Mo, clearly concerned with the circumstances she encountered.

During the course of this project, the cultural differences and their outsider status provided a few challenges to Alexandria and Mo. It was with thanks to their fixers, two gentlemen who aided with translation, access, and generally kept an eye on the pair during their time abroad that they were able to gain valuable connections and immerse themselves in local culture. Working through a translator whose explanation of conversations could often be quite glib did not impede their ability to feel deeply and emotionally connected to those with whom they interacted. It was not always the spoken words that touched the pair, instead “it’s more the feeling in the room and the trust that’s formed,” Alexandria said. They both described many tearful and joyful experiences with the photojournalists and fixers they encountered during the process.

Alexandria and Mo carry the responsibility of their subjects’ safety during the production and, now, the showings of this film. “I’ve never worked on a film where inadvertantly someone could get killed just for appearing on camera,” Mo told me. And yet, despite the dangers, the subjects agreed to participate in this project because they understood and embraced the message of the film. “I feel really, really lucky to know them at all,” Alexandria said, telling me that she finds herself continually concerned for them and thinking of their well-being every day, “it has changed my life for sure.” Mo nodded and agreed. “Yeah, me too.”

In terms of what’s to come for Alexandria and Mo, it will certainly involve fostering the success of Frame by Frame, at least for the immediate future. As explained by Andrea, presenting this film is in some ways the beginning of the process, “the child is born and now we’ve got to raise it,” she said. Ultimately the pair is most eagerly anticipating the chance to show the film in Afghanistan with the subjects, their now friends, watching alongside them.

To learn more about Frame by Frame and to see a short clip, visit their website and facebook.

-Isadora

New Maverick: Danielle Beverly

Danielle Beverly

Danielle Beverly, photo by Isadora Pennington 2015

Danielle Beverly is a Brooklyn based filmmaker, and this weekend her film Old South played during the Atlanta Film Festival at the Plaza Theater. The documentary explores the effects of a fraternity moving into a historically African American neighborhood in Athens, Georgia. A friend who lives nearby alerted Beverly to the impending conflict and allowed her to relocate to the neighborhood and fully dedicate herself to capturing the story.

When filming, Danielle prefers to work alone, immersing herself in her projects. “You don’t have a film without access,” she said, “at least not as a documentary maker.” Gaining that access to a close knit community as an outsider is not always an easy task, and she has found that it is easier to gain the trust of others when she works alone rather than in a team.

“I live very low to the ground when I do this kind of work,” she said of her process. Big changes in the story often came from Danielle simply walking through the neighborhood, making connections with people in the community, and in the case of this film that meant sometimes following the sounds of a frat party in full swing to get the shot.

Danielle refers to her filmmaking style as “longitudinal documentaries,” meaning that she doesn’t necessarily have a predetermined plot or outcome in mind when she begins working on a project. As with any of her films, “there will be a moment of turning” when the nature of the story organically shifts and things begin to fall into place.

Old South offers a window into a community in transition with a cast as varied as they are likeable. “This is a community that worked extremely hard for everything that happened,” Danielle said, praising the individuals she came to know during the process.

Next up for Danielle is a film called Dusty Groove which is currently in production. The film follows Rick, a used vinyl records expert and record shop owner in Chicago, Illinois. In this project, Danielle is exploring the transition that comes from selling vintage records. “Rick serves as a locus to walk me into peoples lives,” she said. Many of the people who sell their records to Dusty Groove are in a state of transition, and letting go of these precious and valuable items that once defined them but no longer do leads Danielle to pose the question “when does that moment happen?”

To learn more about Danielle, Old South, and Dusty Groove check out her website and Facebook page.

-Isadora