The Jack of All Trades: An Interview with Filmmaker Jack Settipane


By: Amanda Guarragi

Jack Settipane is an actor and filmmaker based in Los Angeles. He has been acting since the age of 4 and has been producing many short films, as well as writing his own. Jack made his first short film at the age of 11 and is constantly looking for new people to work with. He has a large following on Instagram and is very influential on social media platforms.

Settipane is currently on the festival circuit with his short film Tick, which has won a couple of awards this season. Jack shot the film completely by himself and he had control over every take, “It was really unique to not have anyone else on set. There was no pressure, no rush, which allowed me to have complete creative control.” Settipane read a script based on Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Tell-Tale Heart”, reworked it, modernized it and changed the ending for the concept of Tick.

Settipane also got involved working on the film Last Call starring John Malkovich and directed by Steven Bernstein. The film had struggled to find its footing and it did not get finished until 6 years after it was shot. “I shared some out of the box approaches with Steven, which led to him asking me to take the helm as producer. I worked day and night for a year to find solutions the many financial and legal predicaments the film was in and to also find a distributor” Last Call should be released in 2021.

Social media seems to play such a huge part in everyone’s lives and Settipane utilizes his wide reach on each platform to find unique influencers that are also filmmakers. He has worked with many influencers internationally in order to create some wonderful short films. It’s rare to find people who blew up in social media but are really down to Earth people and are phenomenal human beings. Gilbert Sosa, Tavo Betancourt, and Nashua Aguilar stand out as those rare individuals.” Settipane believes that networking through human interaction is much easier than networking over social media.

When asked about his upcoming projects, Settipane is currently working with a 16 year old, named Felix Lavelle from Australia. “He made a short film that we ended up picking up and we are aiming to take it through the festival circuit.” Settipane also has a couple of pilots in the works and is ramping up his acting resume. His first love was acting and he would love to get back into it.

Hot Docs 2020 Selection: Love & Stuff Interview with Judith Helfand


By: Amanda Guarragi 

Love & Stuff  is a deeply personal documentary on motherhood and the cycle of life. Peabody Award winning filmmaker Judith Helfand, documented her terminally ill mother’s final moments, at home-hospice before she passed. In this feature, Helfand continues the story that she began two decades ago, with Healthy Baby Girl (Sundance, Peabody 1997) through these films, Helfand adds emotional layers, by openly discussing her own traumas, addressing grief by using dark humour and reflecting on the power of family.

Judith and her mother, just wanted more time to spend with each other. Time is something so valuable and we often take it for granted. “There’s so many things that she probably wanted to tell me, that she couldn’t find the language for, it’s really hard to say, here is my life long lesson, here’s what I want you to know before I die, here’s what I think you need to know.” said Helfand about having discussions with her late mother. Watching a loved one pass away is extremely difficult and emotional. How do we even calculate time? We tend to get whisked away into our busy lives and forget what it is like to spend time with our loved ones. Then for some reason, we ask for more time when we know it’s too late.

It is something that I’ve often questioned about elders, all they want to do is pass down their knowledge and experiences before they leave us. Why do they feel the need to do this at the end of their life? Do we only start listening when they are about to pass because we did not think of paying attention to the stories before?

“They want to give you advice, the stuff that you never wanted to listen to, they were probably right about. They want to keep this connection possible and if they never had a chance to do that, whether they were working too hard or your relationship was on the rocks or something like that, I think that they want the time and the space to be able to try and fix that before they die.” – Judith Helfand 

That is the most wonderful thing about Love & Stuff it takes these conversations about death and turns them into life lessons, so others can understand how to approach the end of their loved ones life. It is a cathartic piece, not only for Helfand but for everyone that worked on the film. It presented a safe space for everyone who had lost someone. “I mean it just started out as a way, for me to not be alone with what I knew. What could be a very private universal moment and by private I mean, I’m not letting others into our life, and into this moment, and into our space, into our home and into our hospice, but I did the opposite.” Helfand wanted everyone to be present for her mother’s passing, in order to give them time to say goodbye.

Helfand’s mother, like every mother, wanted what was best for her daughter and it was revealed that Judith could not bear any children of her own. So the connectivity to motherhood, was the strongest part of this feature because at a time where Judith needed her mother, to guide her through the adoption process and in raising her daughter, she had passed away. “The thing that my mother wanted the most at the end of her life, was the thing my daughter wanted at the beginning of hers and that’s time. My mother just wanted time and my kid just wants to play, she just wants time.” Helfand believes that her daughters birth, was a gift from her mother after she passed and that full circle connectivity is the heart of Love & Stuff. 

This film helps viewers re-evaluate their own connection with their parents or loved ones. Helfand had 2 and a half years to prepare for her mother’s death and it was important to her, to find away to utilize that time. “I wanted to figure out how to keep her in my life and keep our conversation dynamic, even if it wasn’t current and present. It could be ongoing and I wanted to figure out how to be a mother, without having a mother and I felt like all that material was locked inside an archive, and I needed to get to it, as soon as I could.” This feature is incredibly emotional because of the raw, human connection the viewer has with Helfand, as she goes on this journey with her mother.

Helfand made a follow up video to Love & Stuff, called Absolutely No Spitting and it shows the journey of her, now 4 year – old daughter Theo taking a DNA test to discover her ancestry. What starts out as a factual journey, turns into a path of self discovery and acceptance for young Theo. The love shared between Helfand and Theo is very quirky and heartfelt. Helfand shared her own ancestry with Theo and she will continue to explore value in the people around her. She identifies her daughter’s Blackness and incorporates that into her Jewish ancestry.

 

 

‘Always” Short Film Interview with Director Sam Zapiain and Writer/Producer Melissa Del Rosario


By: Amanda Guarragi

The 2nd Annual Desertscape International Film Festival in St. George, Utah is a festival that celebrates filmmakers around the globe. People are encouraged to submit their short films and student films to the festival. The festival normally runs from July 29th to August 1st. This year, the short film Always has been selected for the program. I spoke to the creators of the film, Director Sam Zapiain and Writer/Producer Melissa Del Rosario ahead of the festival.

Always is a short film, based on real life experiences. It incorporates horror elements to cope with the illness of diabetes. There is an urgency in the storytelling because no one really discusses the struggle of living with diabetes. Its experimental use of painted images and rough editing, combined with the haunting score, make this a truly special film.

The importance of making this film for Zapiain comes from a very personal place. He wanted to address the struggles of those who live with diabetes in a very realistic way. “About three years ago, I was diagnosed as a Type 2 Diabetic, and how I handled the symptoms that surfaced out of the blue and out of control felt like a horror story. Out of control.” It is a film that shows the numbness and fatigue through painted images, that come to life in the depths of Alex’s (David Kurtz) mind.

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The sketches were placed in Alex’s apartment to show that he was an artist and his designs allowed him to explore his inner thoughts. It was a spur of the moment idea, right as they were about to begin shooting the film Del Rosario says, “Sam had this idea right before we are set to shoot. I got some paper out and started sketching immediately and I’m happy it all worked out.” Zapiain also wanted to use the sketches as a creative outlet for him to understand what was happening to his body, while trying to understand the symptoms of being diagnosed with diabetes.

The most challenging aspect of filming this piece for Zapiain was learning to accept and acknowledge the presence of a disease. “For quite some time it was the idea of it being behind me, and somewhat in a state of denial or disbelief. Creating the film meant I knew it was here to stay, and it would make a statement on my life.” Zapiain also thanked his producer Del Rosario for helping him recognize the story, writing it, and gathering such a wonderfully talented cast and crew. “In a way, the people behind the film were my therapy. They helped me accustom.” 

It was important for Del Rosario to take on a project that was so personal to a close friend of hers. “For me, as someone who is not diabetic, I decided to learn more about this condition because someone I care about has it. It was truly terrifying to learn about. I believe it is important to raise awareness about this condition and the symptoms others may be experiencing.” It was a project Del Rosario wanted to work on because there are millions of people in the world that are diabetic, with many of the not knowing they are, undiagnosed.

The focus on the horror elements also enhanced the storytelling. Zapiain wanted to incorporate his love for horror and he did this through the use of repetition, quick edits and stunning monochromatic sequences vs the scenes with insulin that were in colour,

“From a technical standpoint, it was a field day for us to play with shadows, and utilize the horror aspect, exaggerating hallways, dark rooms, silhouettes, etc. Colour meant the reality of the situation. Realizing these horrifying images are in the main character’s perspective, (black and white), and what actually exists in color.

There’s such richness in these tones and the lighting was also extremely effective to punch up certain textures. It is a beautifully shot film and there are certain images that will stay in my mind for a while.

The film feels like a journey in such a short period of time. The repetition, rough cuts and haunting (but stunning) images are all utilized to properly highlight the struggle of living with diabetes. Always is very well written and executed, it’s a personal story and everyone should watch it. To learn more about the struggles of living with diabetes, go to the American Diabetes Association website.

 

How Do We Process Grief? An Interview with Director Katrine Philp of “An Elephant in the Room”


By: Amanda Guarragi 

In our lives there are moments that we will remember forever and all of those key moments, shape us into the people we are today. Majority of us tend to stick to the happy memories, in order to outweigh any pain or trauma that we have encountered. Currently, we are all living through the COVID -19 pandemic and people are grieving all over the world. People are paranoid, anxious, scared and are feeling immense loss.

As adults, we understand how everything works. We try to understand the choices the government makes and we adapt to what is happening around us. However, the ones who will be affected by this the most are the children. It is hard to explain any of this to them. Yes they understand to a certain degree, but for kids who are in elementary school and are constantly active, how are they handling any of this? It also raises the question of how children handle the loss of a loved one. What concepts do they understand? How do they even begin to process any of that? Right now there are children grieving the loss of their mother/father, their siblings or their grandparents.

In the middle of March, I watched a documentary called An Elephant in the Room. Katrine Philp directs the documentary feature and it was supposed to premiere at SXSW film festival. An Elephant in the Room focuses on a holistic way of dealing with grief at a centre called “Good Grief” in New Jersey. Philp shares the stories of six children and their companions who have lost their parents. It shows many different approaches in handling grief and acts as a catharsis for everyone involved, including the viewer.

It’s a subject that not many people touch upon because of how painful these stories can be, especially if those stories involve a child’s point of view. Philp had her own experience involving her brother and his family. At one point they almost lost her sister-in-law and she saw the trauma her brother and three children went through during that period of time. “She miraculously survived, but it left marks – and I started getting interested in making a film about how children experience grief.” When she began research on her film, she didn’t know that her own father would fall sick and also pass on, “Feeling my own grief while filming the families during their own made complete sense. I fully understood what the families were going through and the challenges they faced.” Sometimes sharing the pain and these stories help people connect more and feel like they aren’t alone in feeling what they are feeling.

When it comes to children processing anything, it’s always interesting to have these discussions with them, touching upon difficult subject matters. How do these children process these emotions? What are they absorbing and how is it affecting them? So how does one even begin to have a conversation with children about grief? Well, Katrine Philp weighs in on her process and how she approached the children during filming,

“Shooting in a sensitive situation with grieving children and their families for this documentary, we had to be fairly discrete. The children were going through some very deep emotions and it was important for me to be close to them, but not to overwhelm them with an extra pressure. Filming children is different than filming adults, especially when they are challenged by sadness. The children are more impulsive and can go from feeling very sad one moment to being happy and playing two minutes later. It was very common and kind of difficult to film. The cinematographer was always chasing the moment. Some days we couldn’t use any of the footage that we shot and other days magic happened and we captured a lot of fantastic scenes. We had to film a lot, be patient, and wait for the moments to appear. Our method in the interviews was to get them started and then not interrupt them and ask a lot of questions. I just wanted it to come naturally from them and in every pause they had, I waited and then they just kept talking. So patience was key.”

The children in the documentary had lost their mother, father or even both and their guardian took care of them. There were moments in the feature, which were extremely emotional because of how the children openly discussed how they were feeling. Thankfully these children were not alone, not only did they have their guardian helping them through this difficult time; they attended counseling at “Good Grief” in New Jersey. “Good Grief CEO, Joe Primo invited us to come and film and after the first day of filming I was sure that there was a film to be discovered at Good Grief. “ Philp and her team were able to connect with the families and they started filming, both at Good Grief and their homes.

The stories of the children were so incredibly moving and to see them talk to other children about their new families or how they are feeling, really put so much into perspective. It made me realize that it’s okay to feel the way you are feeling and still be able to have an open conversation with people who are willing to listen. Philp began to film these children at Good Grief and their stories kind of candidly developed on screen for her, “When you start filming it is often very clear who would be good characters in a film, so instead of looking at their stories, because every one of them is heartbreaking, we started filming the ones that we kept filming, in a life situation like this, not all families are ready to invite a film crew home and we totally respected that.” Philp was also very conscious to choose families that she felt were capable of having her team around, filming on and off during the year.

An Elephant in the Room will take you on an emotional journey with these young children and will make you reminisce on how you processed your own grief. “Good Grief” is an organization that deserves more recognition for what they are doing because they are giving children a safe space to express their pain. Children are affected by everything and need to be guided during difficult times. To all those suffering around the world during this time, please remember your feelings are valid and there are many sources of expression for everyone experiencing any type of loss, trauma or mental anguish. We must work together and help each other overcome tragedy on a global scale at this current time.

Film Festivals are Important: Why Iram Parveen Bilal’s “I’ll Meet You There” Deserves to be Seen

Photos Courtesy of Parveen Shah Productions

By: Amanda Guarragi 

In light of recent events, the COVID – 19 pandemic has raised some questions about the Entertainment industry and how it will function moving forward. The first big hit the industry took was SXSW being cancelled, while other film festivals like Tribeca and Cannes have been postponed. SXSW is known to select a diverse slate of films, as they provide an opportunity for global professionals at entry level to participate, network, and advance their careers. The loss of SXSW is a major setback for independent filmmakers, who wanted a distributor to pick up their film in order to have a larger platform to showcase these diverse stories.

One film in particular, I’ll Meet You There, written and directed by Iram Parveen Bilal, has been in the works for a decade and it was slated in the Narrative Feature Competition category at SXSW this year. Bilal has waited for her premiere date for a very long time, “So I finally was like yeah I should make it. I wanted to make it. It was just very difficult, people were not really interested to fund a film like this, it was too small, too niche. They just said no one cares to see the story. The film is a post 9/11 family drama, following the lives of a Muslim-American family, as they explore new truths about their present, past and future.

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Faran Tahir, Iram Parveen Bilal, Nikita Tewani and Qavi Khan in I’ll Meet You There

It’s a film that transcends generations, which shows the contrast between a westernized world and the connectivity to religion. Bilal wanted to show the complexities of the everyday Muslim – American and how generations can learn to co-exist, while having their own individual beliefs and ideals. In the film, Dua (Nikita Tewani) is a dancer like her late mother and her grandfather; Baba (Qavi Khan) who came to visit from Pakistan. He makes her question her passion for dance in the name of religion. It’s two different mindsets, having important conversations about past ideologies and adapting to a new world.

It’s a constant battle between assimilation and pride of your roots. And one is to say what are your roots? If you’re born here, is that your roots? Our culture has become very confusing, is it the colour of your skin that defines what culture you should celebrate or is it where you are living or is it a combination? – Iram Parveen Bilal

The film also shows the difficulty police officer’s face when being an immigrant in the American police force and they have to investigate their own community. Bilal wanted to incorporate this storyline in her film because of the lasting image in her head of an Orthodox Muslim as a police officer, after 9/11. “People were just like, there were hate crimes on the street, how is this guy, what is his life like? This was a very dilute version of something like that I mean to be honest, if I was better at doing police procedurals I would have made the whole film just about that. She wanted to make this more than a coming of age story, she wanted to focus on each individual in the family and then bring them together to see how they operate as a unit.

These stories deserve to be seen on a global scale and not having that one platform, like a film festival to showcase it, is damaging to the creator and everyone who worked on the film. Some films, such as this one have taken years to produce and the joy of seeing the film on the big screen has been stripped away, for the time being. The discourse that has come out of this cancellation, is if film festivals should even exist in a location, when the age of streaming makes these films much more accessible.

It’s just unrealistic to assume that when this pandemic subsides, people will not attend festivals or movie theatres. There is so much joy when experiencing a film as a community and going to the cinema is always going to be considered an outing. Movie theatres will never close indefinitely because people want to go out and experience films as a group. Film festivals are special for that very reason because you have hundreds of thousands of people, who love movies, that continuously go support these filmmakers and this industry.

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Writer & Director Iram Parveen Bilal on set of I’ll Meet You There 

Independent films are the ones that need the help in order to be showcased globally, so to be able to watch these films and promote them for these filmmakers is something we should all be doing. There’s so much joy and excitement when premiering your film at a festival, “Honestly I think the rewarding moment is really to be able to share it with audiences. I cannot wait, to be in the theatre and doing that for this film. That’s kind of what Im pushing for is to get it out there. Bilal wants to share this film with audiences because of how special this feature is. All immigrants are trying to find a sense of community, in a place that is systemically set in their ways. The film breaks barriers and it’s definitely one that should be seen by all.