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Meet the 2011 Tribeca Filmmakers | "Jesus Henry Christ" Director Dennis Lee

Indiewire By Indiewire | Indiewire April 12, 2011 at 3:35AM

This colorful, modern family comedy revolves around 10-year-old boy genius Henry James Hermin (Jason Spevack) and his fervently left-wing single mother Patricia (Toni Collette), who works at the local university's cafeteria. A misfit from birth, Henry's precocious, rabble-rousing ways catch up with him when he gets kicked out of school for writing "Manifestos on the Nature of Truth." Meanwhile, 12-year-old Audrey (Samantha Weinstein) has her own problems because of her single father, university professor Dr. Slavkin O'Hara (Michael Sheen), who used her as the test subject for his best-selling book Born Gay or Made that Way? Needless to say, she gets a not-so-nice nickname from her classmates. When Henry scores a scholarship to the university as a child prodigy, the two families cross paths and everything they knew about their lives is thrown to the wind.
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This colorful, modern family comedy revolves around 10-year-old boy genius Henry James Hermin (Jason Spevack) and his fervently left-wing single mother Patricia (Toni Collette), who works at the local university's cafeteria. A misfit from birth, Henry's precocious, rabble-rousing ways catch up with him when he gets kicked out of school for writing "Manifestos on the Nature of Truth." Meanwhile, 12-year-old Audrey (Samantha Weinstein) has her own problems because of her single father, university professor Dr. Slavkin O'Hara (Michael Sheen), who used her as the test subject for his best-selling book Born Gay or Made that Way? Needless to say, she gets a not-so-nice nickname from her classmates. When Henry scores a scholarship to the university as a child prodigy, the two families cross paths and everything they knew about their lives is thrown to the wind.

Writer/director Dennis Lee gives all characters their fair share of snappy dialogue and off-the-wall moments of hilarity, spiking the film with playful charm and visual flair. Collette and Sheen effortlessly flex their comedic muscles with bright newcomers Spevack and Weinstein in this whimsical tale. [Synopsis courtesy of the Tribeca Film Festival]

"Jesus Henry Christ"
World Narrative Competition
Primary Cast: Toni Collette, Michael Sheen, Jason Spevack, Samantha Weinstein, Frank Moore
Director(s): Dennis Lee
Screenwriter: Dennis Lee
Producer(s): Phil Rose, Lisa Gillan, Sukee Chew
Executive Producer: Julia Roberts, Deepak Nayer

Responses courtesy of "Jesus Henry Christ" director Dennis Lee.

On his motivations for going into filmmaking...

Fame and fortune... Not really. Well, maybe just a little bit. I never made short films as a kid, as a teenager, or even in my early twenties. I always thought I was going to be a lawyer or a doctor. I suppose that’s the Korean in me. But then I fell in love with photography. Black and white on an old Pentax K1000 that I bought in a pawn shop for twenty bucks. I took that camera with me everywhere, shot a ton of film, then developed and printed everything in a closet-turned-darkroom. It wasn’t long before I bought an old Super 8 camera for another twenty bucks and started taking moving pictures. I was hooked. Instead of law school, I went to Columbia University for film and graduated with too much debt not to make films.

Early inspirations for the film...

As a kid, I went to church every Sunday. After every service, I went to Sunday School. One Sunday morning, my Sunday school teacher told us that in order to go to heaven, you needed to believe in Christ. What about everyone else? Hell. But what if you’re a good person who doesn’t believe in Christ? Hell. But what if that good person’s my best friend? Hell. But what if my best friend’s a better person than me? Do you believe in Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior? I guess so. Then heaven for you. In fifth grade, my best friend was Muslim.

Writing from the inside out...

When I write, I write from the inside out. No treatment. No outline. No pre-writing strategies. I sit down and write what I want to see on screen. When you write from the inside out, the result is usually a bunch of scenes very loosely, if at all, strung together. The hard work for me is writing from the outside back in -- that is, placing all those scenes together to tell a story. When I direct, it’s about structure. How to interpret a scene within the story - where to put the camera to best tell the story etc. In the end, it becomes all about the story. That, and, of course, actor availability.

Finding money, getting money...

My biggest challenge was/is the biggest challenge facing any filmmaker. Money, and how to get it. But in order to get money, you need cast. But in order to get cast, you need money. Chicken or the egg. The way that I’ve managed to circumvent this dilemma is... Actually, I’m not sure how I’ve managed. Egg or the chicken. What I would love to do is make a feature film for almost no money. In Los Angeles, almost no money means less than $5 million. I’m talking $25,000. That would be fun. Given today’s technology, why not?

A non-U.S. cast...

My film is about a perfectly functional American family made up of dysfunctional people. My cast is almost entirely Canadian (yes, I know that Canadians are American too. And I love Toronto. Great people. Great food. Great record stores. Relatively affordable). The only exceptions are Michael Sheen (Welsh) and Toni Collette (Australian). No one from the States.

A future (somewhat) shrouded in secrecy...

We’ll see... For now, there are a couple of projects in development. There’s one film in particular that I’m dying to make, but I can’t tell anyone what it’s about. It’s politically sensitive and my producers would kill me. So, if you read that I’m shooting a film entitled, “The Untitled Dennis Lee Film,” then you still won’t know what it’s about, but you will. Hopefully soon. If not soon, than later.

This article is related to: New York, Interviews, Jesus Henry Christ