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Production Report | "Amexicano," "Let Them Chirp Awhile," "Love is Jihad," "Served Cold," "Tobruk"

By Jason Guerrasio | Indiewire November 7, 2006 at 4:24AM

[EDITOR'S NOTE: indieWIRE's monthly production report looks at independent films in various stages of production. If you'd like to tell us about a film in production for future columns, please contact us.]
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[EDITOR'S NOTE: indieWIRE's monthly production report looks at independent films in various stages of production. If you'd like to tell us about a film in production for future columns, please contact us.]

In November's edition of indieWIRE's production column, Jason Guerrasio profiles five new films that are in various stages of production. This month's group includes Matthew Bonifacio's "Amexicano," Jonathan Blitstein's ""Let Them Chirp Awhile," Parvez Sharma's "Love is Jihad," C. Alec Rossel's "Served Cold," Vaclav Marhoul's "Tobruk".

"Amexicano"

Following up his first feature "Lbs." with a handful of shorts, producer-director Matthew Bonifacio is currently in post on his sophomore effort "Amexicano."

The comedy set in Queens follows Bruno (Carmine Famiglietti), a lazy Italian-American who befriends Ignacio (Raul Castillo), a hard working Mexican illegal immigrant and explores how the language barrier and racial prejudices surrounding them tests their friendship.

Written by Famiglietti (who's also producing), he passed along the story to long-time collaborator Bonifacio earlier this year and they both knew it would be their next project. "These characters felt very real to me and the situation they found themselves in was poignant," Bonifacio said via e-mail. "To me it's a very simple story about human relationships."

Born and raised in Queens, Famiglietti said the story came from his time working with a day laborer. "I remember hiring this one guy," Famiglietti recalled, "he busted his ass all day. He did twice the amount of work I did and he was half my size, I hired him for the whole time I worked but one day I went to pick him up and he never showed and I never saw him again."

They also shot four days in Columbus, New Mexico, a small town close to the Mexican border. A very active spot for Mexicans to cross (Bonifacio recalled one of the crew seeing 11 people get caught trying to cross the border); Bonifacio was touched by how the town embraced them. "They had stories about the town and were always giving us insight, it was a great experience," he said.

Produced by Bonifacio and Famiglietti's The Brookly-Queens Experiment, the film is nearing the end of post. It was shot on Super 16 in 20 days last September. William M. Miller is the D.P., Morty Ashkinos is the editor and executive producers are Stephen Ashkinos and Cesar A. Baez.

[For more information, please visit the film's website.]


"Let Them Chirp Awhile"

Jonathan Blitstein's feature debut follows two struggling artists (Justin Rice and Brendan Sexton III) living in the East Village and with a mix of comedy and drama explores the daily grind they go through with their careers, relationships and each other.

Written by Blitstein, 23, he says the story relates to what its like for twentysomethings living in New York City today. Having struggled to get his filmmaking career off the ground since graduating from NYU in 2004, Blitstein has done everything from playing in a band to working in a marketing firm to balance his creative and financial needs. Then last summer, Blitstein began working on his script full time. He channeled his past frustrations into his characters and in 29 days had the script ready to pass around. Bringing on producer Anouk Frosch, Blitstein next had to find a cast and decided to cold call any actor he could think would fit the indie mold. Along with attracting talent like Rice and Sexton, he also got Laura Breckenridge, Pepper Binkley and Zach Galligan of "Gremlins" fame. "I went out to dinner with Zach and we talked about 'Gremlins' and Steven Spielberg (who executive produced the film) and I realized the project I had written in my apartment was becoming real."

The good fortune didn't end at casting. He also received product placements from Pabst Blue Ribbon, Gateway computers and Fender guitars. He even got Neil LaBute to contribute to the script: "There's a line where he's mentioned and I got in touch with his assistant and he approved it and also added a line. He said, 'This is the line that the character should say in response.'"

Currently in post, the movie was shot last month on 35mm (Blitstein shot on a color negative but hopes to release the film in black and white). Andrew Shulkind is the D.P., Blitstein is the editor.

[For more information, please visit the film's website.]


"Love Is Jihad"

Formerly known as "In The Name of Allah," this documentary by director Parvez Sharma and producer Sandi DuBowski ("Trembling Before G-d") explores the lives of homosexual Muslims.

The doc, which gay Muslim filmmaker Sharma has been filming for the last five years, was made in 12 countries including Egypt, Pakistan, India and South Africa and follows the stories of eight subjects as they try to balance religion with their sexual preferences. "The film will be groundbreaking as it fills a huge gap of discussion about Islam and allows the most unlikely storytellers of the faith to tell its story like it's never been told before," Sharma said.

DuBowski has been keeping the project afloat with fundraisers across the U.S. (the next will be in L.A. on Nov. 13) and co-productions from five different countries including Channel 4 in the U.K. "This has been a Muslim-Jewish collaboration that not only captures the situation but we're developing a movement that will travel well beyond the movie," DuBowski said.

As hard as it's been to find financing, Sharma had equal difficulty finding subjects. In some areas like Turkey he plugged into community networks but for most people the process to get them to open up took years of trust. Sharma said he filmed one subject -- an Egyptian man who was imprisoned and tortured for being gay -- for two years in silhouette before the man would allow his face to be shown for the film. Sharma also admitted that due to the film's subject matter there were "minor incidents" with people who were against the project but would not go into detail, saying only that he didn't "want to dwell on the negative."

Currently in post with a rough cut eyed for December, DuBowski is seeking finishing funds. Shot on DV by Sharma, Berke Bas, Hussain Akbar and David Leitner, the editor is Juliet Weber. Linda Saetre is executive producer and the film's sales agent is Andrew Herwitz.

[For more information, please visit the film's website.]


"Served Cold"

When hit man Hank Grey (Ryan Hooks) loses the only thing important in his life, his love Fauna (Amber Conner), he goes on a vindictive rampage to avenge her death with the help of a shady character with some underworld ties.

This neo-noir set in the not-so-distant future is the brainchild of writer-director C. Alec Rossel, who recently finished shooting a short film version of the movie that he hopes will attract financers for a feature. Shot in Columbus, Ohio, last month on 35mm, Rossel says shooting the short was the best test to see if the story could be told the way he wants it. "It's a highly stylized movie and the style of shooting and the pace is a throwback to the old film noir movies but in a slightly futuristic world," he said. "So this short is really a proof of concept."

Rossel came up with the film's concept three years ago using films like "2001: A Space Odyssey," "Chinatown" and "Sin City" as inspiration. Though it's hard to find contacts in Ohio, Rossel was able to get producer Philip R. Garrett interested in the script after showing him his pervious feature, "Jack's Habit," which he wrote, directed, produced, edited and shot (producer Sean Ried has recently come onboard). "When he learned that I did the whole thing myself he was pretty impressed and wanted to know what I was doing next," Rossel said.

Hoping to shoot in the spring, the film will be produced through Rossel's Map Torch Films and Garrett's Arbor Ave. Films. The D.P. is Alex Esber, John Whitney is editing. The executive Producer is William Hartnett. Rossel shares writing credit with Garrett and Daniel Alan Kiely.

[For more information, please visit the film's website.


"Tobruk"

Czech filmmaker Vaclav Marhoul examines a group of soldiers during World War II's the battle at Tobruk.

After reading Stephen Crane's "The Red Badge of Courage" two years ago Marhoul became inspired to tell a story surrounded by war. Equally interested to use his home countrymen, he decided on the fighting that took place in Tobruk, Libya, where Czech soldiers fought along side the British, Australian and Polish against German forces.

Marhoul tells the story through the eyes of Jiri, a young volunteer whose self-confidence and patriotic ideals blind him from the horrors of war. He soon comes under the guidance of Jan, a more experienced soldier who opens Jiri's eyes to the world while to two try to survive. "The audience must live through the story with as much authenticity as possible," Marhoul said via e-mail. "So I selected ten actors, none of them movie or television stars." Marhoul continued the authentic portrayal when he went to Tobruk last year to see if it would be possible to shoot on the actual battlefield. Though battle reenactments would be inexpensive to shoot as trenches and fortifications still exist, Marhoul says there are also active mines and high voltage fencing still around which makes filming there too hazardous. He's since decided to film in Tunisia.

Currently looking for financing, Marhoul said sixty percent of the budget is covered and he is planning to shoot by next Spring. Produced through Marhoul's company Silver Screen, the film will be shot on 35mm by Vladimir Smutny ("Kolya") and edited by Ludek Hudec.

This article is related to: In The Works





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