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In the Works: Ross Bros’ NOLA, Independence Night, Super-Heroines, LGBT Roadtrip & Tea Leaves

In the Works: Ross Bros' NOLA, Independence Night, Super-Heroines, LGBT Roadtrip & Tea Leaves

indieWIRE’s production column this week checks in with the Ross Brothers (SXSW 2009 Documentary Jury Winner, “45365”) to find out about their new documentary, and profiles four other upcoming projects, including the adaptation of the first major work of a Pulitzer-Prize nominee, a documentary about Wonder Woman’s influence, an LGBT tour across the US, and a story about tea and philanthropy.

EDITORS NOTE: “In the Works” is a weekly column taking a look at upcoming films, in addition to projects in production. It spotlights films in development, as well completed films that are taking creative paths towards distribution and occasionally ventures away from films to look at other types of projects, such as interesting new film distribution, funding, or exhibition mechanisms.


The Ross Brothers, Bill and Turner, made a splash last year when their debut feature documentary, “45365” took home the Documentary Jury Grand Prize at SXSW (Full Disclosure: Together with my colleague Anne Thompson and ITVS’ Lois Vossen, I was on the jury that selected “45365” as the SXSW competition winner.). Like that accomplished, lyrical film, the Ross Brothers’ new film has a unique title, sure to suffer its fair share of misspellings as it makes its way out in the world: “Tchoupitoulas.”

Speaking with Bill and Turner on the phone (during a short break while shooting their next project), they explain that the film is named after a street in New Orleans, and, like “45365,” is a carefully constructed observational documentary about a place. In “Tchoupitoulas,” filmed over the course of nine months, the filmmakers follow three young brothers as they experience the colorful nightlife of the Big Easy.

Or, better yet, as the Ross’ describe it, the film is “an abstract sensory document of a nocturnal city.” For those who have seen “45365,” a semi-experimental love letter to their Ohio hometown, the new project’s description will resonate. The brothers’ approach to filmmaking naturally leads them to go after a tone or a feeling of a place. “We have an appreciation and affinity for places – spending time in them, and experiencing others’ lives through them.”

While the location has a significant role in “Tchoupitoulas,” their focus is on a few characters rather than on an entire town or community. “In a sense we scaled back majorly, in terms of the number of people we followed, but we are trying to be more abstract about our exploration of space and a sense of place [through the characters],” Bill and Turner offered. While viewers will learn things about their characters, what the filmmakers really hope to invoke is an experience – a sort of singular, archetypal New Orleans night – captured in time.

As with their previous projects, sound design will be a strong element, given the location’s affinity for music – one of the landmarks on Tchoupitoulas Street is Tipitina’s, a music club. But what really serves as the film’s “connective tissue,” bringing everything together, is the environment, and how their subjects navigate through nine months of nights, condensed into a feature length, cumulative “swirling psychedelic night experience,” in Turner’s’ words.

Bill & Turner Ross were recently announced as recipients of a Cinereach grant for “Tchoupitoulas,” for post-production, which they will juggle with the demands of their newest production, currently shooting on both sides of the Mexican border. Bill anticipates at least six months of editing, which is where the brothers say they will ultimately find “Tchoupitoulas”‘s story’s shape, before the project is unveiled.

More projects:


Image from “Four,” courtesy Max Dworkin.

Logline: Based on the play by Pulitzer prize-nominee Christopher Shinn, “Four” tells the story of two couples struggling with their desires and demons on the American night of independence.

The team: Joshua Sanchez, Writer/Director; Christine Giorgio, Producer (“The Big-Shot Caller”); Neil LaBute, Executive Producer (“In the Company of Men”); Marnee Meyer, Editor (“Damages”), Mary Clay Boland, Casting Director (“The Sopranos”)

About the film: Sanchez first became familiar with Christopher Shinn’s play while researching the playwright for an interview in 2004. After impressing him with his short film, “Kill or Be Killed,” Sanchez was able to option “Four” to be his first feature. Drawn to its provocative story, which focuses on a tryst between a closeted, married, middle-aged African-American man and a teenage white boy, as well as a date between the man’s teenage daughter and a low-level drug dealer, Sanchez saw rich cinematic potential in its believable and complex relationships. He offers, “Iʼm interested in characters that explore the spaces between what is said and what is acted upon. Iʼm interested in landscapes that interject unexpected theatricality and tension into mundane, mainstream American life.”

Current status: In February, the filmmakers successfully raised over $19,000 for pre-production costs in a Kickstarter campaign. Since then, they have been seeking additional funding from private investors for their production and post-production budgets, with ArtsEngine serving as a fiscal sponsor. With Neil LeBute recently coming on board as the project’s Executive Producer, and Mary Clay Boland (“The Sopranos”) casting the film, the production is scheduled to begin August in Hartford, CT.

For more information: “Four” website

“The History of the Universe As Told By Wonder Woman”

Images from “The History of the Universe As Told By Wonder Woman,” courtesy of the filmmakers.

Logline: Using animated artwork, mixed media, and 3-D to create a visually kinetic, highly constructed documentary, “The History of the Universe As Told By Wonder Woman” harnesses the voices of literary critics, women writers, classicists, philosophers, impersonators, collectors, feminists, and fanatics to chart how America’s first superheroine’s rise and fall has reflected – and continues to reflect – our mixed feelings over the decades about female capacity, desires, and achievement.

The team: Kristy Guevara-Flanagan, Director (“Going on 13”); Kelcey Edwards, Producer (“Ghost in the Material”); Carla Guitierrez, Editor (“La Corona”); PJ Raval, Cinematographer (“Trouble the Water,” “Trinidad”); Interview subjects will include George Perez and Gail Simone (both Wonder Woman comic book creators), actress Lindsay Wagner, actress Lynda Carter, and filmmaker Dara Birnbaum.

About the film: Director Guevara-Flanagan was inspired to document the role Wonder Woman has played in culture after learning that it took until 2008 for a woman to become the character’s comic book series regular writer. Intrigued, she delved into the origins of the character in 1941 and into the complex and unusual background of her creator, William Moulton Marston, a pop psychologist who also invented the lie detector and was in a polyamorous relationship with two women. By using the character’s seventy year history as a case study, the documentary explores how our culture navigates female identity and empowerment. As the filmmakers explain, “This film reminds us of the need for strong, non-sexualized representations of women for people of all ages to look up to.”

Current status: The filmmakers are nearly midway through production, with remaining interview scheduled throughout the summer, including celebrity interviews on both coasts. Post-production should begin in September. An IndieGoGo crowdfunding campaign has been started to assist with production costs, with fiscal sponsorship through the San Francisco Film Society.

For more information and to support the film: http://www.indiegogo.com/The-History-of-the-Universe-as-Told-by-Wonder-Woman. The IndieGoGo campaign has a little less than a month to raise its $19,000 goal.

I’m From Driftwood 50-State Story Tour

Marquise Lee shoots Nathan Manske and a storyteller for an I’m From Driftwood video story shoot. Image courtesy of Michael J Cargill.

Logline: Lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people are everywhere, and the I’m From Driftwood team is going to prove it by embarking on a 50-State Story Tour to document true stories of LGBT life in the smallest of towns and the biggest of cities.

The team: Nathan Manske, I’m From Driftwood Creator/Tour & Video Stories Producer; Marquise Lee, Crush Deviant Producer/Director

About the project: Inspired by the example of Harvey Milk, Driftwood, TX native turned New Yorker Nathan Manske launched his website I’m From Driftwood to collect stories of LGBT lives to offer readers from all over the world a sense of community and to combat prejudice and stereotypes with understanding and humanity. As Manske puts it: “To the gay teens struggling to come out and deal with their sexuality, who to this day still attempt suicide four times more than straight kids, IFD says ‘you are not alone.'” The Tour is an extension of the site, providing Manske and his collaborators a chance to meet LGBT folk from every state at readings and other events, and, most importantly, to give them a chance to contribute written, audio, and video stories to the site. Manske will update his readers with frequent blog posts and webisodes from the tour, while his director, Marquise Lee, has plans to create a feature documentary about the road trip.

Current status: Manske has just begun a crowdfunding campaign on Kickstarter to cover some of the initial travel costs associated with the 50-State Story Tour. Provided that the campaign is successful, the Tour will kick off in September from, of course, Driftwood, TX.

For more information and to support the project: http://kck.st/aKWAZn. As with all Kickstarter projects, the filmmakers will only receive donated funds if they reach their target goal of $15,000 by the end of the campaign on July 26th.

“The Learning Tea”

An image from “The Learning Tea,” courtesy of the filmmakers.

Logline: Can tea leaves turn into opportunities? One woman’s venture to cultivate education for young women and girls in India.

The team: Phoebe Brown, Director/Producer; Charlene Fisk, Director of Photography; Elizabeth Strickler, Executive Producer

About the film: Last summer, Katrell Christie, who runs an Atlanta tea shop, went to India looking for tea. In Darjeeling, she instead learned about the fate of up to 10,000 girls and young women in the the region: forced labor and prostitution. Recognizing the impact of consumer choice and an opportunity to help, Christie created The Learning Tea, a sustainable system to support local jobs and to fund higher education for women by selling Darjeeling tea from a Fair Trade tea plantation. The filmmakers join Christie in India to follow her and one of the young women she is sponsoring as she gains the tools to better her community. Director Brown explains: “While there are numerous NGOs committed to improving women’s lives worldwide and addressing human trafficking and sexual slavery—on a wide scale the problem is still epidemic. There is not nearly enough media addressing the issue of the systematic inequality keeping women in poverty and in jeopardy.”

Current status: The project is currently in pre-production, with the first principal shoot scheduled for this July/August in Darjeeling as well as a second project location in southern India. A second shoot will follow within six months, at which point either further shoots will be planned or the filmmakers will move into post-production. In the meantime, the producers are in the midst of a fundraising campaign on IndieGoGo to help cover the cost of travel, insurance, and story rights.

For more information and to support the film: http://www.indiegogo.com/The-Learning-Tea. The IndieGoGo campaign has a little less than a month to raise its $3,000 goal.

Also currently In the Works:

“The Divide,” the new film by “Frontier(s)” and “Hitman” director Xavier Gens, began principal photography last month in Winnipeg. Described as a “character-driven apocalyptic action thriller,” “The Divide” is set in a NYC apartment building, with a small group of characters trying to survive but finding themselves increasingly at each others throats. Produced by Parlay Media’s Ross M Dinerstein, Instinctive Film’s Darryn Welch, Julijette inc’s Juliette Hagopian, and Nathaniel Rollo, the film’s cast includes Lauren German, Milo Ventimiglia, Michael Biehn, Rosanna Arquette, and Courtney B Vance. ContentFilm is handling international sales, while William Morris/Endeavor and IP Advisor are selling North American rights for the film, expected to be completed in 2011.

Jane Startz Productions and Lauren Versel and Maria Teresa Arida’s Lucky Monkey Pictures recently announced that Victor Nunez is attached to direct the adaptation of William Durbin’s “El Lector.” Nunez, a Sundance Grand Jury Award winner for “Ruby in Paradise” and the writer/director of “Ulee’s Gold,” also co-wrote “Lector” with Flaminia Ocampo. The film is set in Florida’s “cigar capital of the world” and follows a young girl who aspires to be a storyteller for cigar factory workers.

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