VIFF: Choose the Right Thing?


Have you ever had this amazing thought or idea during the process of waking up in the morning- just as you’re getting used to the subtle burn of morning light in your eyes- and you suddenly get this feeling that you just HAVE to write down, causing you to skip the next couple of steps in the “waking up” process so you can bolt for your laptop and just type it out?

Yah. That’s what happened to me the morning that I thought after viewing Choose the Right Thing?, it was very obvious that I had ‘chosen the right thing’ to watch at the Vancouver International Film Festival this year.

I’m sorry, I just couldn’t help myself.

Still from 'Choose the Right Thing'

Choose the Right Thing? is a compilation of 8 short films from the USA, the UK, Germany, New Zealand, and Brazil as part of the High School Outreach Program at the Vancouver International Film Festival (VIFF).  I liked everything about the films; from the scenery to camera angles, everything was so raw, fresh and exciting and youth centric.

It is impossible to watch any of these shorts passively. My mind was constantly in motion through the viewing of these shorts, for the storylines were layered and embedded with so much in regards to the youth experience. Each film details varying social, emotional, and cultural contexts that cannot go unnoticed in our world, and the steps taken to exemplify these issues in each short to the fullest is pretty remarkable. The execution of each story was unlike any other mainstream “box office hit” you’d come across, and the feelings associated with these issues are very different. Take Opus for example: the issue of a student-teacher relationship is something that is not so new to the industry, however, Opus looks at it through a superficial-less and much more realistic lens of infatuation, and shows the mental and emotional (not the judicial ones) complications associated with such an affair.  And in Just Like Her, when a teen girl has the opportunity to spend time with a model whom she idolizes, things un-spiral in a way unlike any other film has done before…but I’m not going to tell you what, because that will spoil the surprise!

Still from the film 'Crush'

One general note I feel compelled to make after watching each of the films is that the acting was fantastic. I kid you not; I’m pretty sure each and every character made me feel something. Whether it was wanting to beat the shit out of Micah’s older brother in Crush, or hug poor Ahmad in Broken Cycle, it was crystal clear that the actors successfully completed their jobs in telling the story. There were plenty of times where I wanted to reach out to the characters in the film, and give them a hug or something, since they gave me the impression that they needed it…if that makes any sense.

I, too, felt the frustration and confusion dwelling within the teenage boy in Goalie, and I  so badly wanted to console the teenage boy in The Off Season who was grieving over the loss of his father. I was constantly on my toes anticipating the actions of each character, for it felt as though they were replicating real life…and we all know how erratic and spontaneous people in real life can be! There were instances in All Ages where I thought to myself, “story of my life”, especially when the girls had to pee so bad at a party and had to squat outside, only to be caught by a smokin’ hot guitarist (don’t act like it’s never happened to you). Each of the characters in each of the films are very relatable, which is something that I have always found to be pretty important; it was all very REAL, and that is what made these films so goddamn special.

Speaking of being “goddamn special”, I had the honor of interviewing (via email because we love utilizing technology these days, and of course, time zones) four of the film directors who will be in town for the festival: Matthew A. Brown (Crush), Clifton Archuleta (Broken Cycle), Laramie Dennis (All Ages), and Max Rousseau (Opus).  I had planned to be all journalisty and incorporate their responses within the article, but the content within their responses was just too good and inspirational to pass up:

So tell me about yourselves! Please state your name, age, how long you have been involved in the film industry, how you got started, when you did in fact start, what your films are usually about, etc.

Matthew (MB)- Matthew A. Brown. 37. Involved in the film industry since around 1997. Started as an actor. Did leads in some critically acclaimed American indie features like God’s Army (2000) and Brigham City (2001). But started writing very early on. Did English lit in university, where I started writing screenplays. And once I stepped behind the camera for the first time, I knew I’d never act again. Was ecstatic and so much more emotionally available and was always more interested in creating the entire world of the story than being a pawn to someone else’s vision. My stories vary. My first feature, which I’m shooting next year in Cape Town (I was born in Cape Town, immigrated to New York with my family at 16) is a South African coming-of-age gangster thriller, called STRONG BONES. Also have a psych-thriller in development. And another gangster movie with kids, but this one’s NY-based, called THE RISE AND FALL OF LORENZO THE KID. My shorts have displayed both these tendencies. Crush, my 4th short, deals with teenage violence, sexuality, revenge, love. And my previous short, Victim, is dark suspense thriller… Very much a genre piece.

Clifton (CA)- Hi, my name is Clifton Archuleta and I’m 32 years old.  As a recent college graduate, my industry experience is just beginning.  Four years ago, I decided to make a major career change.  I had been working as a contract translator after serving 7 ½ years in the U.S. Army as an Arabic linguist, but felt it was time to pursue my passion to pick up a camera and start making movies. That’s how I ended up in film school. Since graduation, I’ve been working with a commercial production house in Denver and doing some freelance work.  It’s all been a great experience and I feel fortunate for the opportunities that have come my way.  Most recently, I was able to spend ten days in Argentina on a shoot. My films often deal with social justice issues.  Making such films is difficult for me though, because while I’m very opinionated, I’m not interested in beating people over the head with my message. I’d rather let issues present themselves in the circumstances surrounding an individual and focus on the human aspect of how one deals with them.  I believe this helps to provoke thought and allows the viewer to reach their own conclusion about a given issue.

Laramie (LD)- I’m 38, but my psychic age is 17. After college, I spent ten years in New York directing theater before deciding on a whim to apply to film school. All Ages is my graduate thesis, and the first film I’ve ever screened publicly.

Max (MR)- I’m Max Rousseau, 23 and I’ve really been involved in the film industry since I was 9. I wanted to be a filmmaker ever since then and never jumped ship no matter what was thrown at me. It started mainly with me wanting to be a Producer (when I was 9, I used to watch big budget action films produced by Jerry Bruckheimer, he was my childhood hero) but that shifted to writing as I would write my own scripts on my free time. It wasn’t until high school that I actually picked up a camera and starting shooting my scripts. I interned on numerous low budget films shooting where I grew up in South Florida (Ft. Lauderdale to be specific).  I decided to get my degree in film and I got into the Film B.F.A. program at the University of Central Florida. I directed four short films in undergrad, (one of which is Opus – which is playing/premiering at VIFF).   Right now I’m at UCF getting an M.F.A., teaching Film Courses and directing my first feature which is in pre-production currently (check out www.pembrokecircle.com).  My films to be honest are usually about outcasts of some sort, people who don’t fit into the “norm” due to social awkwardness, not relating to people their age, cultural differences or insecurities.  That has been a running theme in all of my films including Opus and my up-coming feature Pembroke Circle.

All of these films revolve around youth (ages 15-25). Why was it important to you to create such a film using the demographic of teenagers? How do the issues in your film address real life, and why did you choose to create a piece on that specific issue addressed?

MB- I love working with teenagers because there’s so often a certain raw and burning emotional aliveness and immediacy. Also no bad acting habits from years of TV or theater or whatever. In Crush, I went through agencies in Berlin, and couldn’t find the right faces or rawness. In fact, many of the agencies were too scared of the material to even show their kids. But of course when the kids read the script, they loved it. Because it was real to them. But this was also due to working in Germany I think, where there’s a certain fear of violence. Unless it’s depicted in the past. I like to capture spirit on the screen. And teenagers are so often just exploding with all this life and desires and impulses going haywire… But that’s also why I like actors like Sean Penn. The unpredictability.

CA- I feel like teenagers are at a very vulnerable point in their lives.  I remember being faced with split-second decisions that could have potentially changed the course of my life(drugs, vandalism, etc.).  There was a night that I decided not to get in a car with some kids from school who had been drinking.  Later that night, they crashed their car and two of the teens died.  I feel that it’s important to address issues that teens are currently dealing with in order to help them see that a person doesn’t have to succumb to peer pressure or pretend to be something they’re not.  Broken Cycle addresses several issues, but primarily racism and bullying.  Several years ago, I read an article about a Sikh 9th grader in Queens, New York who had been assaulted by his classmates because of his appearance.  That same year, there was a Muslim teen from Staten Island who finally spoke up about being beaten and bullied by his peers for over a year.  Stories like these forced me to think more in depth about the potential consequences of such actions on the development of adolescents. There’s also my personal connection to these issues.  My heritage is half hispanic, half irish.  Growing up in an ethnically divided community, I found it difficult to find acceptance from my peers.  Luckily, I was able to look past these things and not let it reflect negatively on the way I viewed myself, however, I can see how easily youth can get caught up in the conflict it causes.

LD- When I was in high school, my friends and I were obsessed with the movies John Hughes made with Molly Ringwald (Sixteen Candles, The Breakfast Club + Pretty in Pink). We wanted Molly’s clothes. We wanted to get the guy in the end, like Molly always did. We wanted to be her. But we also identified with Molly. Whether she was playing an awkward sophomore or a prom queen, she radiated this intense, teenage self-consciousness. This fear of acting like a dork. I really identified with that.

MD- I think it was important for me to make the protagonist of my film 17, because I wanted to show a character who felt alienated because of her passion (in this case classical music/ piano) which ultimately leads to her falling for her teacher. I think many of my peers, in my generation at least, have no idea what they want out of life or are afraid to follow their dreams (or passions).  The main character in my film is following her passion (though she has temptations along the way) she does what many people my age seem to not be doing.  They’re not willing to take risks.  This could just be Florida though…

Do you think the teenage experience often exemplified in film and television is generally important? Why do you think the medium of film is so successful in raising awareness to teenage issues and struggles?

MB- I’m not sure the medium of film is so successful in raising awareness to teenage issues… Most of what I see nowadays that deals with teens in cinema has nothing at all to do with raising awareness… I see a lot of purely entertaining stories that involve teens kicking ass, sucking blood, flying broomsticks, talking about cocks and cunts, and generally living balls to the wall and loving life. In fact one my upcoming features is a teenage surfing vigilante movie called MY NAME IS CALIFF HUTCHINS. And it’s a balls to the wall and ecstatic celebration of living your dreams to the full. And yes, killing, or at least maiming, anyone who gets in the way.

CA- It’s definitely important.  Teenagers are influenced by so much.  The culture they experience through movies and on television helps to define their self-image.  This can be bad, violence is a good example.  Not that I’m against violence in media, I think it has its place, but I don’t agree with violence being gratuitous or glamorized.  For this same reason, film and television can also be good. It has the ability to reach so many people, as well as, show youth that there are others who share their experience.

Why do you think it’s important for youth (ages 15-25) to be involved in the film industry, whether in front of the camera or behind the scenes.

MB- I think the teenage / young adult perspective will naturally bring a whole other energy/vision to the table. Harmony Korine’s writing KIDS for example. Or Catherine Hardwicke’s writing “13” with the teenage girl. There’s an element of life there that’s raw/burning, like what I was talking about above. And the other major thing for me is that so often adults either forget or try to deny just how hardcore their thinking/dreaming/desires were as teenagers. I was so excited when I saw Chloe Moretz in KICK ASS. Firstly coz it felt like at least now there’s a precedent for some of the shit my kids get up to in LORENZO THE KID, which has a much darker, but ecstatic tone… But also I was thinking how brilliant it is that she was just allowed — by parents/guardians/agents/whoever — to do the role in the first place. I feel like it should be the kid’s decision. Sure, there are limits. But I think kids reach the age of discernment infinitely earlier than parents are willing to admit.

CA- I think it’s important for several reasons.  One, it helps them to get their stories heard. A major problem with issues like bullying is that teens often feel that no one is listening. Two, filmmaking a hugely a collaborative effort.  Becoming part of a team, such as a film crew, helps to instill a sense of belonging and confidence through accomplishment in people.  It also allows people to express themselves creatively, which can help break down barriers and inhibitions.

LD- Make movies if that sounds like fun to you. Or act in a play. Or play basketball. Play violin in the dork-ass ORCHESTRA, if that’s what you’re into. (Do schools even have orchestras anymore??) Tell your mom you’re going “out for coffee” and go to rock shows instead.

If you have anything at all, whether it be advice or something important about your film that you would like revealed in the article.

MB- Do what you love.

Agreed. Do what you love, people. Just like Ellie did in Ellie. Not sure of what she did? Then go see Choose the Right Thing? and be inspired to create and do the things it is that you love. Speaking of which, I’m going to eat now. Thank you very much to VIFF for accommodating Youth in 57 Minutes Media, and an even greater thank you to those directors who shared a word or two with us…we appreciate it, and look forward to seeing more of you in the future!

Photos from www.viff.org


About Racquel Belmonte

Racquel is a struggling voice over actress who will be starting her third year as a Communications Major and Publishing Minor at SFU in the fall. Aside from sounding like a ten year old boy, she prides herself in being able to find lightness and humour in any given situation and considers every opportunity an opportunity for laughter and fun. Racquel is very interested in youth culture, most specifically how youth is represented in media and how youth are marketed. She likes most people and loves meeting and working with a diverse range of individuals. When she?s not doing essays, hanging out with friends, or stalking celebrities on Twitter, Racquel is learning how to sing so that she will land a role on Glee as the love interest of any of the show's characters...ANY of them.

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