Over the past few months, we've profiled several projects that are being featured at IFP's Independent Film Week. As this year's Independent Film Week winds down, our In the Works column is putting the spotlight on several projects that have been workshopped and networked around New York this week. In this week's edition, we've got a futuristic thriller about a mysterious new drug, a personal doc about an Oscar-winning intersex filmmaker who was diagnosed with testicular cancer, a small story about a Maine logging town, and a doc looking back at a 1972 murder from a supposedly "post-racial" 21st Century America.
Logline: "Relapse" is a dark futuristic thriller about an amnesiac chemist who has to piece together his former life in order to save his sister from Oblivion – a drug that erases memories.
Production team: Dan Kern, Writer/Director; Jay Van Hoy & Lars Knudsen, Producers.
About the film: "I was finishing a short film about pharmaceutical testing on humans when I received a call from a childhood friend trying to make bail in San Francisco on drug charges. I got on a plane and spent ten days chasing her across the city trying to check her into rehab. When I returned to New York, a bridge started forming in my mind between the drug world I witnessed and the pharmaceutical world in my short.
"'Relapse' began with the image of an overdosed user who wakes up in a lab with no memory of his own identity. A blank slate. The amnesiac character of Lennon emerged as pure limbic reaction to his captivity. For Lennon to become whole, he would have to go backwards into his past. Become the past...Although Lennon has no conscious memories, his reptilian brain – the involuntary brain that controls breathing as well as fear – holds clues and images for him to decipher. Like grooves on a vinyl record, his childhood traumas have burrowed deep into his mind. From these formative fragments, Lennon's sister Kaira appears in his mind as the origin of his quest and the object. But the Kaira that Lennon recalls is nothing like the Kaira he finds – totally dependent on her fix.
"Addiction in its purest form serves to erase the past and nullify the future, replacing both with an endless artificial now. From this image of 'now' was born Oblivion, the amnesiac drug which blurs the fabric of Lennon's perception and seeps into the narrative itself. Lennon is trapped in the liminal space between reality and his distorted memories, dreams and nightmares. Finding a way out is the story of 'Relapse.'" -- Dan Kern
Current status: After being workshopped and developed in the Binger Filmlab in Amsterdam and through the Nipkow Fellowship in Berlin, the film is currently looking for financing at IFP No Borders.
"Ain't I a Woman"
Synopsis: One in 750 babies are born with a Disorder of Sex Development. In the past, these people were labeled “hermaphrodites,” and captivated the curiosity of the medical establishment. At age 16, filmmaker Robin Honan was diagnosed with a Disorder of Sex Development (DSD) called Swyer Syndrome - which means she is a woman with XY chromosomes - and told she had testicular cancer. With unprecedented access and sensitivity - never before has someone with a DSD made a film about DSDs - Robin sheds light on this misunderstood intersection of sex, gender and sexuality and asks divisive questions: - Should infants with ambiguous genitalia undergo cosmetic surgeries to normalize their genital appearance? - Do we, as parents & physicians, violate a basic human right when we alter someone else’s body? - And are we ready, as a culture, to accept bodies that are different?
Production team: Director/Producer/Writer: Robin Honan ("Freeheld"); Camera/Editor: Andy Scott; Consulting Producer: David Teague
About the film: "As one of the first intersex filmmakers to direct a feature-length documentary about Disorders of Sex Development – and someone with unique access to this marginalized community – I believe I am uniquely positioned to educate the public about just how common these conditions are, expand our notions of sex and gender, and help improve the quality of health care, and the quality of life, people with DSDs enjoy. I began formal research on this project six years ago, but it was the Caster Semenya story, which broke in August 2009, that convinced me beyond a shadow of doubt that the time for the film had come. Caster is the South African runner who is suspected to have a form of Androgen Insensitivity Syndrome (AIS), a condition similar to my own. Watching the world respond to Caster’s story, and specifically witnessing how little most people know about conditions like Caster’s, was the catalyst for beginning this film. We desperately need intelligent media to help bring about a paradigm shift related to this misunderstood intersection of sex, gender and sexuality.
"But this is not only a film about Disorders of Sex Development – DSDs offer yet another example of the limitations of the either/or gender binary, and perhaps also highlight the fallacy of any binary construct. People with DSDs represent a kind of diversity we are just beginning to recognize. And geneticists are discovering that the traditional ways we define sex and gender are not necessarily always accurate – sex cannot simply be determined by looking between someone’s legs." -- Robin Honan
Current status: Robin shot footage earlier this year, edited down to twenty minutes, and is showing it now to funders.
Logline: In the frozen woods of an isolated Maine logging town, one woman's tragic mistake shatters the balance of the community, resulting in profound and unexpected consequences. Weaving several connected story lines, "Bluebird" examines the struggles of regret and redemption at the frontier of modern America.
Production Team: Writer/Director: Lance Edmands ("Vacationland"); Producer: Kyle Martin ("NY Export: Opus Jazz," "Tiny Furniture"); Cinematographer: Jody Lee Lipes ("NY Export: Opus Jazz," "Afterschool")
About The Film: "Maine has always inspired an abundance of innovative storytelling, from the poetic travelogues of Henry David Thoreau, to the dark and mythic horrors of Stephen King. Its dense woods loom ever present, standing at the border of civilization, reminding the inhabitants that nature is king and we are simply at the mercy of its will. Rugged individualism and stoic determination mark the local disposition, but inside the sparsely scattered homes, many conflicts stir. The shrinking logging industry faces an uncertain future as the paper mills close one by one. Drugs permeate the provincial outposts, where the lack of options and education lead desperate people toward dead ends. But, however bleak these struggles, they are nestled within the bountiful beauty of the natural world. In Northern Maine, human anguish exists in stark contrast to the unknowable mysteries of nature.
"Before I even wrote the script for 'Bluebird,' I knew I wanted to make a film inspired by where I grew up. The unique panorama of Maine has always influenced my filmmaking, and it seemed only natural to photograph my characters against this backdrop. As a filmmaker, I am most interested in the relationship that people have with the landscape around them. I am fascinated by the way people interact with their environment and how it effects even their smallest decisions. As globalization creeps into the most remote areas, our sense of place is changing. It is important to explore the places that offer not only a unique topography, but also a specific world-view and state of mind. 'Bluebird' is a regional film with a universal theme." -- Lance Edmands
Status: This project is currently in development and casting.
"Murder in the Village"
Logline: A white father of thirteen is murdered on a street corner in 1972. Three black teenagers are accused, then acquitted. Wrapped in the riveting structure of a mystery, "Murder in the Village" is an oral history of a neighborhood that forces a poignant confrontation between a white middle-class American family and Baltimore's black urban so-called underclass. Filmed by the victim's granddaughter.
Production team: Producer/Co-Director: Mary Posaltko; Co-Director/Cinematographer: Emily Topper; Executive Producers: Albert Berger & Ron Yerxa
About the film: "Our movie is about the 1972 murder of Henry Selhorst. He was an ordinary man, a former priest and a WII veteran, who was killed one day—senselessly—on a street corner in Baltimore, five blocks from his home where he was the father of 13. None of his children understood why. One of them was my mother. My grandfather's death has had an atrocious effect on my family, and Baltimore is the city that has long-shaped my ideas about America. Three black teenagers stood accused of the crime, and were presumed the correct suspects by the detectives assigned to the case, yet all three were acquitted due partially—some have maintained—to the highly charged racial climate of the time.
"Producer Mary Posatko and I started this film in the winter of 2009, inspired by the election of the first black president of the United States. It was with a sense of idealism that we began to press my family to talk, and although it is a hard thing to put into words, I felt that if all of our guards were down, that somehow, because of what President Obama had done during his campaign, we could talk about race in a new way. It is this sense that we capitalized on in the first few months of shooting, a raw, albeit uncomfortable candor that now forms the spine of our film. The more the memories from my family spilled out, the more we felt we had to hear the other side of the story. We decided to look for the accused men and talk to them directly, if we could, if they were still alive. In 2009, they would be 54 years old, exactly the age that Henry Selhorst was at the time of his death. Where are they now, we wondered, and what have they done with their lives having been through this ordeal?" -- Emily Topper
Current status: The film team has finished principle photography in July 2010. The team is raising funds for post-production, looking to complete by next summer.
Also in the works:
Shooting has just begun on Pascal Laugier's ("Martyrs") English-language debut, "The Tall Man," which will star Jessica Biel. The film follows a town in which a tall man abducts children without a trace. Shooting has begun in British Columbia.
Vulture is reporting that NBC is greenlighting production on a pilot that will reunite J.J. Abrams with "Lost" co-stars Michael Emerson (Ben) and Terry O'Quinn (John Locke).