In his feature film debut, Joseph Infantolino draws on his own experiences of love and everything that comes along with it. “Helena from the Wedding,” an entry in the Narrative Competition, is a film made on Infantolino’s own terms. “Having recently experienced a spectacular career failure, the last thing playwright Alex Javal (Lee Tergesen) wants to do is host a weekend long New Year’s Eve party for his successful friends at a small cabin in the mountains. Yet that is what he is on the way to do when we meet him and his new wife Alice (Melanie Lynskey). As the clock ticks away another year and a surprise guest, the very beautiful and very young Helena (Gillian Jacobs) arrives, facades begin to buckle.” [Synopsis courtesy of SXSW]
Editor’s Note: This is one interview in a series profiling directors whose films are screening in the Narrative Competition, Documentary Competition and Emerging Visions sections at the 2010 SXSW Film Festival.
“Helena from the Wedding”
Director: Joseph Infantolino
Screenwriter: Joseph Infantolino
Producers: Brendan Mason & Alexa L. Fogel
Cast: Lee Tergesen, Melanie Lynskey, Gillian Jacobs, Dagmara Dominczyk, Paul Fitzgerald, Dominic Fumusa, Jessica Hecht, Corey Stoll, Lee Tergesen
Cinematographer: Stephen Kazmierski
Editor: Jennifer Lilly
Infantolino introduces his work…
Over the last ten years I’ve been producing an eclectic mix of films such as Jim McKay’s “Our Song” (co-producer) and most recently David Schwimmer’s debut feature as director, “Run, Fatboy, Run” (executive producer) with my producing partner Alexa Fogel at Beech Hill Films. The first screenplay I wrote was the short film “Jimmy Blue” which I also directed and which premiered at the New York Film Festival in 2006. It was a transformative experience and I was quickly hooked on the writing and directing process and connecting with an audience through story, camera, editing and the magic of actors.
The idea for “Helena from the Wedding” originates with my own marriage relatively late in life set against the backdrop of some of my friend’s longtime marriages that had begun to show some strain by the time I got around to marrying. It began with just a feeling and an image of a man and a woman standing facing each other and for a long time I couldn’t figure out whether they were coming together or coming apart. After my contrasting experiences as a producer asking for permission to get films made and my “just do it” experience writing and directing my short I really wanted to create a feature story I could just make. I had access to a hunting cabin in upstate NY and I put the aforesaid man and woman facing each other in that cabin and started writing.
The approach to the film was inspired by the naturalism and immediacy of filmmakers like John Cassavettes and more recently by the Dogme movement and its insistence on a stripped down approach in order to focus on the writing and performances. I wasn’t concerned with following all the Dogme rules but by the spirit of it. I made my short this way and loved the experience and the result. This approach was actually my first decision and guided the creation of the screenplay as well. I’m a big fan of Billy Wilder and his tone and the way his films like “The Apartment” were amusing on the surface and about something serious underneath. One inspiration for this film was “Knife in the Water” because it is so contained yet cinematic and a good example of the power of mood and leaving things open enough for an audience to bring their own feelings and experiences to the show.
The biggest challenge was that I wanted to tell a story that was about something that was never really discussed directly and where almost everything that was communicated between the characters of importance was through looks, glances and actions rather than dialogue. At the extreme, I wanted the entire third act to unfold with no dialogue between the central couple of the film at all. This element proved to be the biggest challenge because having decided to “just do it,” I had very little time to capture all these vital unspoken moments, sometimes between eight characters at a time.
Infantolino on what people can take from “Helena from the Wedding”…
I hope that audiences will either see themselves or someone they know in one of the characters, hopefully both. Also the subject of relationships and the theme of transition from youth to adulthood are universal and while it can be painful, embarrassing and sometimes sad, it’s also often comic terrain to explore.
Infantolino on his upcoming projects…
I’m producing several projects at Beech Hill and I’m writing a few screenplays to direct including the feature adaptation of my short film and a comedy inspired by my aging and ailing grandmother, who has completely taken over my parent’s golden years.