A film director Zach Weintraub describes as "a play-by-play reenactment of stuff that has happened to me," "The International Sign For Choking" follows the saga of Josh, a young man who returns with rosy recollections in mind to a foreign city where he studied as an undergraduate, only to find that things there weren't quite as swell as he remembered. "I studied in Buenos Aires for five months, and according to my distorted memory it was amazing, but if I really think about it there were a lot of long, lonely walks and time spent browsing the internet in my room," Weintraub says. "I would go to a random park and sit there for an hour…I guess I made the movie to feel like those bummer experiences were ultimately worth something."
On the Pacific Northwest and becoming a filmmaker: "We're not just into weed and hiking and all of that. The people here are complicated, and they have feelings. That's why I'm a filmmaker, to spread that message."
On not making sense of the work: "I'm definitely more of a questions filmmaker than an answers one. I guess that me making movies is like a really complicated, expensive version of Yahoo! Answers – 'I'm experiencing increased loneliness and dissatisfaction, and my interpersonal relations are suffering as well. Anyone know what my deal is?!'
The challenges of public transportation: "One day Nandan (the DP) and I both got food poisoning, or the flu or something, but it was toward the end of shoot and we had too much lined up to cancel anything. We were both really feverish and puking, but we still took the subway to and from our shoot. It was really hot and packed with people. I kept thinking, 'I'm going to get off at the next stop and throw up in a trash can,' but I held it together."
What can audiences take away from this film? "If you've ever felt depressed in an unfamiliar place, which could be a foreign country but could also be someplace as common as a bar that you don't usually go to, then you can come see my movie and hopefully feel better about that experience."
Up next? "I just finished shooting a new movie. It was real low-key. If you're interested you should check out the Newhard blog."
Indiewire invited AFI FEST competition directors to tell us about their films, including what inspired them, the challenges they faced and what they're doing next. We'll be publishing their responses leading up to the 2012 festival. Keep checking HERE every day up to the launch for the latest profiles.