By Bryce J. Renninger | Indiewire September 16, 2010 at 4:00AM
Selected filmmakers from across the nation with projects at various stages of completion will flock to New York next week for the Independent Film Project's Independent Film Week (IFW). During the event, workshops are hosted and meetings are arranged for filmmakers to explore funding opportunities, the film festival circuit, and distribution paths. In celebration of one of the most important industry events centered around films not yet completed, indieWIRE is spotlighting three IFW projects in various stages of production for this week's In the Works column: a script from Steve Collins ("Gretchen," the upcoming "You Hurt My Feelings"), which tells the story of a yoga-studio-turned commune-gone-wrong; the new project from Robinson Devor ("Zoo"); a profile of Sara Jane Moore, the FBI double agent that attempted to assassinate Gerald Ford after being found out; and the filmmakers behind "Made in China" and the distributor Carnivalesque Films take on the story of an arm of the modeling industry that sees young girls travel from Russia to Japan in search of fame.
"Girl Model" (tentative title)
Four years ago, Ashley Sabin was approached by an acquaintance and classmate from Pratt to join her on a trip to the Siberia to document a modeling trend that took young girls, around twelve to fifteen years old, from Siberia to Japan, so that they could have modeling careers there. With her boyfriend and filmmaking partner David Redmon, they followed the acquaintance, a model scout, from France to China to Siberia to Japan. As Sabin recounted, "No one knows what inviting a documentary filmmaker into your life will be like. And we didn't know what we were going to find."
According to the duo, the film, a part of IFP's documentary lab, is about a few characters -- one, a St. Petersburg man who runs the modeling agency, which plucks these girls out of their Russian villages sending them to the Japanese fashion industry; another, Sabin's acquaintance, the model scout; and finally, the girls themselves. The Japanese fashion industry, with its emphasis on kawaii (cuteness or adorableness) desires young Caucasian women, sometimes called "Lolitas." The talent agency sees themselves as saving these girls. The scouts feel like they are doing a service for the girls, taking them out of their poor lives. The girls are eager for the opportunity.
The film shows the complete story of one of the girl models, Nadia, from getting hired at a casting session to the streets of Japan, back home. The female scout, Ashley, a former model, is thriving in another role within an industry she left.
The filmmakers, now in post production on the film, are beginning to think about the potential impact of their film. They noted, "We didn't make the film wanting to make film to make impact -- it was too late to get out in a lot of ways -- Our intended audience is younger girls, people interested in modeling -- It shows what's usually cut out of those reality shows -- It does show the highlights, the pleasures, and the accomplishments of those involved, and people will be inspired, but it shows the other side, too."
In the midst of a few other productions, Steve Collins was listening to the stories his wife told about her experiences as a yoga instructor -- odd stories about the incongruity between spirituality and commerce. What resulted is a script, "The Garden," "a comedy about passive aggressive relationships in a yoga center" that is a part of IFP's screenplay program. When a suburban yoga center threatens to corporatize, a number of people from the center's community get together to "take a pickax to the space, erect greenhouses, and start a commune."
Leading the utopian movement is Judy, described by Collins as a chronic eye-roller, whose character is based on his wife and friends in the yoga community. Says Collins, "Her problem is that she's scared to teach. She's got compassion, but she feels she doesn't know enough to teach." When Judy and the others get stuck in the confines of the commune, spirituality bites the dust and pettiness and infighting prevail. "Through her attempt to turn the yoga strip mall chain into a commune, she swings from one end of the pendulum to the other and finds the folly of open-hearted extremism, can be just as unsuccessful as closed-hearted extremism."
For Collins, this film is about anywhere "in the sprawl, strip malls and highways. I lived in Austin and there were a lot of giant flat landscapes, giant cloverleaf highway interchanges that were quite striking."
Collins has just finished work on another film, "You Hurt My Feelings," and is ready to devote more time to "The Garden." "As I was writing it, I realized this was a straighter comedy -- surely offbeat -- It's really just a tender, lighthearted comedy with some emotional depth to it. This was really the most commercial thing that I've written." As he waits for the funds to come together for production on "The Garden," Collins is spending his time as "one of two filmmakers in Middletown, Connecticut," teaching at Wesleyan University's film studies program.
"Untitled Sara Jane Moore"
With "Zoo," Robinson Devor gave vitality to a subject, bestiality, few filmmakers would be brave enough to represent on the screen. His producing partner, Joshua Zeman (who directed "Cropsey" and executive produced the TIFF '10 title "Ceremony"), noted, "He has a history of giving unlikely characters a real voice. "Zoo" was a complicated story in terms of how he was able to humanize a difficult subject matter. That's really Rob's skill, is finding the emotions in these stories."
Devor's new project centers on Sara Jane Moore, who on September 22, 1975 tried to assassinate then-President Gerald Ford. Moore, a forty-five year old suburban housewife was found out as a double agent, reporting to the FBI and the radical left. After being found out, the only way she saw to react to her predicament was to attempt assassination of the President.
The filmmakers, who have a bit of footage but are getting ready to head into production full swing. The film will be a fiction-doc hybrid, with recreations, even more narratively structured than "Zoo." After seeing Moore's story on "Good Morning America," Devor approached Moore about doing a film and she agreed. Says Zeman, "She's so unbelievably smart, and she's got an amazing, interesting story to tell." The filmmaking team is headed to IFP, excited to lock funding and begin full production.
Also in the works:
Media Rights Capital and executive M. Night Shyamalan have announced that the second project in their trio of "Night Chronicles," has been locked. "The Last Exorcism" director Daniel Stamm will direct "Reincarnate" from a script by Chris Sparling ("Buried") and Paul Grellong. In "Reincarnate," supernatural forces try to guide a jury to reaching the correct conclusion in their deliberations. The first film in "The Night Chronicles," "Devil," will hit theaters tomorrow.