How the Female Experience is Depicted in the Short Film “Twist”: An Interview with Aly Migliori


By: Amanda Guarragi

Women have shared so many similar experiences with each other for many years and there have been films that have truly captured the female experience. The short film Twist, written and directed by Aly Migliori, analyzes the loss of innocence in this coming of age thriller. It takes the female experience and tells a universal story that women know a little too well. Migliori gives a fresh take and elevates the experience through the use of colours, lighting, minimal dialogue and the score.

Migliori wanted to put these character in a space and in this heightened period all in one night, “I wanted to show the consequences, the learning, the growth and kind of feeling the loss of innocence without any kind of explicit blame or anything. It’s a pretty impactful moment for her, it’s pretty innocuous for the others.” The film takes place at night as a teenager named Hannah (Helena Howard), finishes work at her local ice cream parlour and she walks home alone at night. A car, with three boys pulls up right beside her and they convince her to get in, so they can drive her home.

She takes this universal story, this universal experience and makes a great thriller while addressing a young girls first encounter with the dangers of being a woman. Naming the film Twist was extremely clever because it’s an entendre. Migliori played with the idea of the expectations of the title, both literally and how everything unfolded at the ice cream parlour. She goes on to say that, “The ice cream parlour, this very Americana ice cream parlour has connotations with American nostalgia, American childhood and kind of American censorship. I think this story is kind of resisting that mythology, while playing with it.” That is why the ice cream parlour as the centerpiece of the film worked so well. It felt like a wholesome location because of the nostalgia tied to everyone’s childhood and then Migliori turned it into a place that has scarred its lead character.

Courtesy of First Hunt Films

What was most impressive was how the score elevated the moment Hannah realized what was happening and how this moment would affect her for the rest of her life. All women remember the one moment where everything changed, when their perception of the world, of boys, changed. The score had this teenage pop angst as Migliori described with a sinister undertone that completely worked with Howard’s performance. The connection was so raw and it forces the viewer to remember that specific moment in their own lives.

What really tied everything together was the cinematography and the use of lighting. The choice to light up the ice cream parlour and make that the standout while keeping everything else around the parlour in darkness worked very well. There were bright reds used at the beginning of the film and then as the film got deeper into the story, it got darker, “The red takes on a much darker meaning later on, as the story progresses we’re still using the same colour palette, we’re just shifting it darker and she’s kind of growing up and losing her rose coloured glasses on all of the elements of the female experience.” Watching Hannah go through that experience and having all of these elements change with her made a huge impact.

Twist is a short film that offers so much in such a short period of time. It dives into the female experience and leaves you questioning the moments in your own life. All women have a similar story and no, that is not an exaggeration. Aly Migliori delivers on all fronts and her biggest aspirational takeaway is that hopefully some people find a certain parallelism in their own experiences and feel heard, while also truly enjoying this story.

Cake Day: A Story About Recovery With Filmmakers Phillip Thomas and Cameron Crosby


By: Amanda Guarragi

Cake Day is a short film that authentically highlights the journey of an addict. Cameron (Cameron Crosby) emotionally deteriorates, as he contemplates the consequences of honesty, on a day of celebration during one of his meetings. It is a poignant film that is directed with such care and honesty from everyone involved. It is important to handle this subject matter with the utmost respect, when generally retelling an experience that you may, or may not have been directly affected by. The centerpiece of this film is the meeting itself and that is why it is so special.

Director Phillip Thomas really wanted to present an emotional story that would speak to everyone. He wanted to be able to create a sense of empathy and understanding for those who have been struggling with an addiction. He managed to create a community within the film itself. It was comforting to watch this short film, knowing that the people behind the camera wanted to create this support system for its viewers,

You can’t tell an experience like this without having the authenticity and people around you to teach you what it is or else you’re going to fail. That was the whole point of the process of doing this short film, it was to make sure that I could in fact speak on behalf of people, that I haven’t experienced what they’ve experienced.”

– Phillip Thomas, Director of Cake Day

Thomas did his research and he went to different meetings with Cameron Crosby to help get a better understanding in how to tell this story. They only had three days to shoot this film and the bulk of the film takes place in one of the meeting rooms they actually attended. Thomas made sure to keep the exact same setup to make it feel authentic because normally there is no documentation of any meeting. In order to create a sense of community for his audience he needed to accurately create the atmosphere as well.

When collaborating with filmmakers, especially when discussing difficult subject matter, there is a support system that builds, when working with everyone without even realizing it. There are friendships that form when going through a creative process with others, even more so when the subject hits close to home. When getting into character, Crosby found it a bit challenging to get into the that headspace again, “To go into the headspace of the what if, what if that would happen to me and how I would react to it and like whether to move forward and try to get better.” Crosby gave an emotional, internalized performance because it came from such a personal space.

Courtesy of Superfan Pictures and Image Nation Films

Crosby wanted to be apart of a film that would send a positive message to anyone struggling, he was happy to work with Thomas because of all the care that went into the story,

“I think that’s an important message of the film just bc you take one step back doesn’t discount the 20 steps you made forward. Nothing was really uncomfortable because Phil set up such a great atmosphere, where I just felt safe and protected, which allowed me to get deeper and allowed me to get into that dark headspace.”

– Cameron Crosby, Cake Day

It’s incredibly important to have these honest conversations, where the filmmakers can go even deeper into the psyche of the character, to fully form a story that can be so personal. There is definitely a right way to tell these stories and that is what Cake Day does, it just captures this one day and expands upon the internal conflict of its lead character. Every aspect of the film, from the atmosphere to the fantastic score elevated the performances from the actors. It’s an important film that accurately depicts the struggle of being honest, not only with those around you, but with yourself.

HorrorFest International Winner ‘Red Light’: An Interview with Filmmakers Ted Raimi and Alex Kahuam


By: Amanda Guarragi

Since 2001 HorrorFest International has brought the Horror community together to celebrate the genre and emerging filmmakers. The festival showcases features, short films and scripts, to live in-person audiences. This year, the film Red Light won for Best Midnight Movie at the festival. Director Alex Kahuam is absolutely delighted that his film got the midnight spot during the festival and was overwhelmed by the reception. The film stars the legendary Ted Raimi, as Ian, a man who teaches millennials a thing or two about karma.

The film begins with this quote,

“As a child I never imagined that all of the real monsters in the world would be human”

-Mobeen Hakeem

It sets the tone for the rest of the film because everyone has their own perception of monsters. It is a reflection on humanity and the treatment of others. It also highlights the persona of social media influencers, on and off their screen. Kahuam wrote a great screenplay exploring these ideas and he definitely presents them in a unique way,

“It reflects all people. It’s just a reflection on humanity and how we are monsters in a way and that’s what I wanted. So the audience would get a taste of what the whole picture was going to be. Everyone’s a monster in their own way. 

– Director Alex Kahuam, Red Light
Courtesy of Veva Entertainment
(left) Chloe Ortega, Jade Janet, Esteban de la Isla, Alex Sands and Layne Herrin

Red Light captures the human condition and how everyone fears something different. The most unique aspect about this film is the long takes that Kahuam decided to do. Everything was perfectly orchestrated and the tension was really prominent throughout. These long takes also brought out great performances from his actors, allowing their fear to feel real. Kahuam also used lighting and shadowing to enhance the atmosphere,

“The colour is super loud, violent and visceral and I wanted the audience to feel that at the beginning and at the end.”

– Director Alex Kahuam, Red Light
Courtesy of Veva Entertainment

The placement for these colours for the opening and closing shots, definitely packed a punch and made it memorable.

Not only was this film visually pleasing and so incredibly fun to watch, Ian (Ted Raimi) as a character was intriguing and he left you wanting to know more. The writing for the character was really strong and watching his story unfold was great. Raimi spoke about his character and praised Kahuam for writing him so well. Raimi said that his character and the story reflected something that everyone is currently dealing with,

“We happen to be in the middle of a generational crisis right now, it usually takes place every 50 years. I think Alex has tapped into that quite well and so it was easy to step into.”

– Ted Raimi, Red Light
Courtesy of Veva Entertainment
(Ted Raimi as Ian)

This is what is interesting about Ian’s character, he genuinely believes that he is paying it forward and restoring order in the universe. Ian kidnaps these teenagers and ties them up in his basement to set them straight, all while answering to a higher power, his own parents. We see three generations in a very different light and how they respond to each other.

The last act in this film has stayed with me because of how powerful the visuals were. The Horror elements were perfect and it is a short film that would work even better as a feature because of how strong the writing is. From the lighting, to the song choices, to the sound design, the film is beautifully crafted and I am looking forward to seeing more from Alex Kahuam.

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.