Interview with Gina Telaroli, director of “Here’s to the Future!”

Here's to the Future!

Water and script pages, Here’s To The Future, Gina Telaroli, 2014

A few weeks ago, legendary film critic Glenn Kenny interviewed director Gena Telaroli about her film “Here’s to the Future!” on his site, and he was kind enough to let us republish it here.

The young filmmaker Gina Telaroli has a new picture premiering this upcoming Saturday, December  13, at the Migrating Forms festival at the Brooklyn Academy of Music. Here’s To The Future! is both an immediately engaging and consistently (playfully) challenging piece of work; I characterize it below as an essay film disguised as a process film. The premise of the movie is simple: Telaroli assembles a small crew and variable cast to enact a scene from an obscure Michael Curtiz-directed melodrama from the early ’30s, The Cabin In The Cotton  (which costarred soon-to-be-casualty-of-the-talkies Richard Barthelmess and not-yet-ascended star Bette Davis), and gives herself a single afternoon to get it done. (It occurs to me now that there’s also something slightly OULIPean about the enterprise.) All of the folks assembled have their own devices which are shooting the shooting and the finished feature intercuts footage off devices ranging from a Blackberry Curve to a Canon 60D. Where Telaroli’s prior feature, 2012’s Traveling Light (which I wrote about here) made a kind of abstract narrative out of an abandoned attempt at a different narrative film, Here’s To The Future! adopts an interrogative mode from the get-go. But because it gets so close to the people who are part of it, the movie never feels hermetic or theoretical. It’s both as unconventional and accessible as filmmaking gets, in a funny way. Go see it.

I engaged Gina, who’s a friend, in an e-mail interview, and here’s how it went.

GK:  Your first feature, A Little Death is, from all appearances, a pretty conventionally conceived and produced narrative film in that it seems to be the work of actors and a crew working from a script, etcetera. Traveling Light is a movie that aspired to be one thing, and ended up as something else due to circumstances of shooting and then again with respect to editing. Here’s To The Future! is something else yet again: a kind of essay film in the disguise of a process film. Was that what your conception was from beginning to end or, as with Traveling Light, was that something that changed along the timeline of the production?

GT: Like Traveling LightHTTF! isn’t conventional in terms of its conception and is very much a product of circumstances, some in my control and some not. The scene we are shooting was actually supposed to be part of a short film I was making for an omnibus project that was centered on the theme of ‘proof.’ I was going to make a film comprised of documentary footage I shot in Ohio and have that transition to the narrative scene we shot on that Sunday in September.  The omnibus project fell through, so that film never got made, but even before that project turned to dust, I knew I was more interested in the document of the shoot itself and the repetition in the performances of the scene, that that was the real “movie.”

GK:  It looks as if, in the films where you work from footage you generate yourself and/or with the collaboration of your colleagues, your role as director is less that of a traditional auteur and more as a conductor or prompter. You’re creating a set of circumstances for creative people to enact and recording and digesting—via editing—the results. Is that an accurate characterization?

GT: I don’t disagree with what you wrote, though something about your question feels like it discredits my voice as the author a bit?  My films are 100% the result of circumstance and they are definitely dependent on collaboration and the people I work with, which I love, but I still put all the elements in the room, if that makes sense. For HTTF!  I chose the scene, the people, the day, and I did direct a lot of the footage, even if it’s used in a different context.  Also, while it isn’t directing exactly, I have to imagine the mood, the general feeling of the day and thus the progression of events was due in part to the environment I created and sustained.

Also, in Classic Hollywood (and even in the current iteration of the studio system) directors didn’t necessarily have a lot of choice about content or collaborators but of course the entire idea of the auteur was developed around them.  The main difference here is that instead of directing a traditional story with the creative elements given to me (script, actors, crew), I’m basically directing the story in the edit with the creative elements given to me (footage).

I do like the idea of comparing myself to a conductor although I think a more accurate metaphoric description might be that what I do is like being a contestant on MasterChef during one of the Mystery Box Challenges. Ultimately I have to use the ingredients given to me (footage) but at the end of the day I’m still the author, the recipe prepared is mine.

GK: Why did you want to reenact this particular scene from The Cabin In The Cotton?

GT: The simple and practical answer, which always factors into my no-budget filmmaking, is that I needed something that looked and felt like a movie scene and I needed that scene to be a simple one with minimal characters that could be shot in an apartment in one afternoon.  After those practical considerations came the fact that in the months leading up to that shoot, Film Forum was having one of their pre-code series and I was going nightly and rabidly emailing with friends about the films we were seeing, which were proving very inspirational and also timely, with August 8th’s Black Monday. Of all the movies at Film Forum, The Cabin In The Cotton really hit home in terms of its strange and complex ideas about economics and solidarity politics. I was also drawn to the baffling combination of a fresh-faced Bette Davis and a soundly confused and tired Richard Barthelmess.  So, as per usual, the choice was a product of circumstance and practical concerns, as well as thematic appropriateness and my own bizarre interests and fixations.

I will say that I am getting a lot of joy from the fact that everyone who talks to me about the movie is asking about why I chose this scene. That is, I really really like the idea of people being curious and placing all this importance on a pretty random, mostly forgotten, and by all accounts insignificant movie from 1932. That doesn’t happen very often anymore. It’s actually going to be on TCM on January 21st at 8:45, so interested parties should set their DVRs.

GK: “I just think it needs to look really real,” an offscreen voice is heard saying at the beginning of the film. The multiple frames contained within the movie—the credits list seven discrete recording devices—in themselves suggest different standards of realism, but even so, other considerations come into play. The personalities of the players kind of mutate as the movie moves along; a viewer might find cinematographer Eric Phillips-Horst a little uptight and wonky at the outset, and his sheer joy at the end is kind of unexpected and infectious. Was illuminating the conundrum about cinema—that it both shows and withholds, and can be very cagey about giving what one might call “the whole picture”—part of your scheme?

GT: I’ll start with the specifics here and then get a little more general.  With Eric, who actually is the person who speaks the line you reference, I think this is partially due to process. For the first two acts of the movie, more than anyone else, he’s working and has a very specific task that requires a very specific focus and energy, especially when there’s a time crunch because your talent has to finish at specific times to get to their day jobs.  The third act is the first point in the movie where he is actually able to relax and just be himself, and in the case of Eric, himself is very much something I would associate with joy.  In any case, I really like that his “character” worked that way for you—in terms of character development but mostly in terms of a document of labor.

Something I often thought about while editing was how the movie would change or work for people that knew the people in movie personally and those that didn’t.  Ultimately, I think it’s (appropriately) a lot like pre-code cinema, which featured a round-robin of rotating character actors. That is, if you are familiar with (know in a sense) Ruth Donnelly, Guy Kibbee, Allen Jenkins, Emma Dunn, Ned Sparks etc.,you’re given a key to go deeper with those films. The rhythms of those movies change and the jokes resonate in a different way and in some cases the jokes only exist because of knowledge of the actor and their previous roles. That being said, obviously Blessed Event isn’t any less of a movie if you don’t recognize the actors, it’s just a slightly different one.  Fassbinder’s films function similarly.

In terms of withholding and showing, what’s been very interesting and surprising to me thus far has been people’s different interpretations, not of what things mean so much as what is actually happening—who is saying what, who has the camera, where the sound is coming from, what’s on purpose and what isn’t, who is acting and who isn’t.

GK: There’s also a subtextual interrogation of the mechanics of desire going on in this movie. At some point each of the female actors who’s portraying the Bette Davis role comments upon, or makes a physical adjustment to, her frontal presentation, so to speak. Giving direction to one of your male actors, you are heard saying, “But…you’re a man…”  There’s a brief montage, three shots I think, of unlaced female garments. Whence does/did this arrive from?

GT: I’d almost rather hear you talk more about this than answer the question myself because I’m always thinking about gender and its relationship to cinema on and off screen but I’ve never thought of the movie that way or seen those images in that context when I’ve watched it.

That being said, I think there are a few practical answers to this question.  In terms of the frontal adjustment, I think those shots came to be because 1), people were not thinking about being filmed 2), it was a no-budget set and everyone is wearing many hats, with the actors pretty much taking care of their own wardrobe 3), the microphones were being difficult.  My decision to use those shots likely also stems from many places—the rhythms of movie at those moments, the lighting, the person in the frame, what was being said etc..

I do think the women totally stole the show though, which is due to both the scene itself and the specific people I gathered to perform the scene.

GK: I seem to recall reading somewhere that you were continuing to move away from conventional narrative in your work. Which, I’m sure you’re aware, is kind of interesting given that so much of your critical work is devoted, in several respects, to great narrative filmmaking of classical Hollywood. I’m not suggesting there’s some kind of discrepancy in that, but there are folks who’d say it’s a shame that someone of your obvious talent and vision is working at a remove from the mainstream when the mainstream could use more vital young female filmmakers. Does this sort of concern ever cross your mind?

GT: Well, before my predictably practical answer, thank you! The main thing here is that I’m a working class woman, that is, I have to support myself.  Short of people coming forward to offer their producing services and someone handing me enough cash to make a more traditional movie and also support myself in this obscenely expensive city with shelter, food, and health insurance while I made that traditional movie in its many stages (research, writing, casting, pre-production, shooting, editing, promoting) that isn’t looking like something that is going to happen anytime soon.  My last two films are very much the product of my having a day job, a day job I take very seriously and care about.

Do I think it’s a shame that making movies isn’t my job? I don’t know. It seems an unproductive question for me. I do think having a job keeps me grounded in and connected to what it means to be a person living in this horrific capitalist system, which provides a tension in my work that I think is missing in a lot of current filmmaking, especially art house and “independent” fare. It also forces me to constantly adapt, to think outside the box and challenge myself and I like that. In theory I guess I’d love to not have a traditional job and to make movies and travel around the world with them but also who knows, I’m a Taurus and I like stability. Plus, I mean, I’m always bloated and tired when I travel and it would suck to be bloated all the time. And I’d really miss my friends.

In terms of Hollywood and women directors, I of course agree that I’d like to see more women in the mainstream. I am currently obsessed with Beyond The Lights and [writer/director] Gina Prince-Bythewood kind of said it all when she told NPR that she’s offered tons of work but that she isn’t able to make movies that she writes, the stories she actually wants to tell.

So, in a way I guess my answer to your question is that you’re asking the wrong person because ultimately it isn’t up to me.


USA/Island 2014; R: Aaron Katz & Martha Stephens; D: Paul Eenhoorn, Earl Lynn Nelson; 95min, DCP, OV

Land Ho

Enttäuscht von seinem Leben nach der Pensionierung, bringt Mitch, ein ehemaliger Chirurg, den zurückhaltenden Colin, seinen Ex-Schwager, dazu, mit ihm Ferien in Island zu verbringen. Die beiden streifen durch Reykjaviks Eisbars, trendige Spas und abenteuerliche Restaurants auf der Suche nach der verlorenen Jugend. Doch die weiten und eindringlichen Landschaften Islands lassen sie bald entdecken, dass man nicht vor sich selbst davonlaufen kann – egal, wie weit man davonreist.

You are invited to join two retirees as they fly from their homes in the US for a holiday driving around Iceland in a rented SUV. Mitch is a grizzled former Marine with a taste for loud Hawaiian shirts and a propensity for garrulous sexism. His former brother-in-law Colin is a sad-sack Australian, financially ruined and emotionally distraught after the failure of his last marriage. But as these unlikely travelling companions roam the Icelandic landscape, reflecting poignantly on their lives while still managing to cause some good-natured havoc on the way, co-directors Martha Stephens and Aaron Katz’s delicate and heart-warming comedy soon beguiles us. With wonderfully nuanced performances by Nelson and Eenhoorn, this is a funny, bittersweet portrait of the frustrations and consolations of ageing, underpinned by a boyish sense of mischief. (LFF)


USA 2014; R: Robert Greene; 88min, DCP, OV


Brandy Burre hatte eine wiederkehrende Rolle in der HBO Serie THE WIRE, beschloss dann aber, ihre Karriere als Schauspielerin zugunsten einer Familie aufzugeben. Als sie ihre Arbeit wieder einzufordert, bricht ihr häusliches Umfeld, so sorgsam wie sorgfältig aufgebaut, zusammen. Mittels Elementen des Melodrama und des Cinéma Verité ist ACTRESS gleichzeitig das intensive Porträt einer sterbenden Beziehung und die Erforschung einer komplexen Frau, die die Rolle ihres eigenes Lebens in einer komplexen und doch bekannten Geschichte spielt. Es ist ein Film über die Hauptrolle in dem Film über dein Leben. Das geschieht, wenn man die Regeln bricht.

Brandy Burre had a recurring role on the TV series THE WIRE before deciding to dedicate herself to the role of housewife with two small children in a New York suburb. Now, in her late 30s, she hopes to return to the limelight. But family life is threatening to collapse, as is the extroverted yet vulnerable Brandy. Who is she really, when not in character? With two lovely children by her side and an unsteady and somewhat dull but friendly partnership with their father, she nonetheless decides to return to her dream of acting. The boundary between identity and performance is constantly shifting in Robert Greene’s intimate and existential film about a charismatic woman’s starring role in her own life. A hybrid film where documentary spontaneity freely borrows elements from one of the most artificial (and American) of genres: melodrama. An enigmatic film about an enigmatic woman. (CPH:DOX)


USA 2014; R: Vera Brunner-Sung; D: Kathleen Wise, Hiroka Matsushima, Fahad Alsaif; 83min, HDCam, OV

Bella Vista-001

Eine junge Frau gibt Migranten in einer kleinen Stadt in Montana Englisch-Unterricht. Sie hat ihr gewohntes Umfeld für den befristeten Job in der abgelegenen Gegend aufgegeben. Während ihre Schüler sich mit ihrer neuen Heimat rasch arrangieren und untereinander Kontakte knüpfen, ist die Lehrerin isoliert. Stundenlang wandert sie durch die atemberaubende Landschaft, um der Einsamkeit zu entfliehen und Antworten zu finden auf ihre Lebensfragen. Doch die Natur bleibt stumm und die junge Frau allein – bis ihr die Schüler den Schlüssel für einen Neuanfang beiten. (Filmfest Hamburg)

An English teacher feels isolated in a small town in the American West. Pressured by circumstances beyond her control, she searches the local landscape for answers in long, time-stopping shots; the sound of tires on an unseen highway haunts every frame. In her first feature, Vera Brunner-Sung shows in calm, unembellished scenes a chapter in the life of a woman who arrives in a small town in the Missoula valley in Montana to give English lessons to immigrants, while leading an isolated existence.
In order to escape her restrictive surroundings, she explores the nearby landscape, where she finds only more signs of alienation. However, she keeps up appearances for her students, until finally it is they who hand her the key to a new start. (IFFR)


USA 2014; R: Joe Dante; D: Anton Yelchin, Ashley Greene, Alexandra Daddario; 89min, DCP, OV

Burying the ex

Max und Evelyn sind ein ziemlich ungleiches Paar, er arbeitet in einem Shop für Gruselartikel, sie lebt radikal vegan und schreibt an einem Umwelt-Blog. Als sie beschließen zusammenzuziehen, wird die Situation bald unerträglich und Max will sich genervt von seiner Freundin trennen. Doch bevor es dazu kommt, fällt Evelyn einem absurden Unfall zum Opfer. Wer das nun für eine ewige Trennung hält, irrt gewaltig, denn nach wenigen Tagen kehrt Evelyn als reichlich derangierter, übelriechender Zombie in Max’ Leben zurück. Der Rest ist der Fantasie überlassen, die dann noch übertroffen wird. (Viennale)

BURYING THE EX follows Max, all-around nice guy and classic movie buff, and his overbearing but incredibly sexy girlfriend, Evelyn. Their relationship takes a nosedive after Max invites Evelyn to move in and she turns out to be a controlling, manipulative nightmare. Max realizes it’s time to call it quits, but he doesn’t want to hurt her so he stays the course. Fate steps in when Evelyn is involved in a freak accident and dies, leaving Max guilty, single, but eventually ready to mingle. Several weeks later, Max has a chance encounter with Olivia, a cute and funny girl who also loves movies and who just might be his soul mate. But that same night, Evelyn becomes the “Ex Who Wouldn’t Die”— she’s back from the grave as a dirt-smeared undead (and horny) corpse, and she’s crazier about Max than ever. But crazy is the operative word, and Max’s life is turned upside down as his decomposing “Girlfriend from Hell” takes over while he tries to hide her “existence” from Olivia.


USA 2013; R: Jim Mickle; D: Michael C. Hall, Don Johnson, Sam Shepard, Vanessa Shaw; 109min, DCP, OV

Cold in July 1

Texas in den 1980er Jahren. Das friedliche Leben des Ehepaars Richard und Ann Dane ändert sich schlagartig, als Richard eines Nachts einen Einbrecher aus Notwehr tötet. Danach wird der Familienvater nicht nur von Schuldgefühlen geplagt, sondern auch mit Russel, dem Vater des Getöteten, konfrontiert. Dieser entpuppt sich als gewaltverherrlichender Ex-Sträfling und sinnt auf Rache, die sich in einer alttestamentarischen Auffassung von Gerechtigkeit zu äußern droht.

COLD IN JULY tells the story of Richard Dane, a small town frame builder from East Texas who is forced to kill a man in self-defense. He then meets Ben Russell, a rough ex-con and the father of the man Dane shot, who is hell-bent on avenging his son’s death. But small town corruption and paranoia turn these bitter enemies into unlikely allies, as the two guilt-stricken fathers begin a search for truth, aided by Dane’s tough-minded wife and a pig-raising detective from the backwoods of Houston. Before it’s all over, they uncover a bigger secret, darker and more dangerous than any of them could have imagined.
Michael C. Hall brings a shell-shocked vulnerability to his portrayal of Dane that contrasts perfectly with the grizzled badasses portrayed by Sam Shepard and Don Johnson. Directed with an excellent eye for the visual poetry of noir, this pulpy, southern-fried mystery is a throwback to an older breed of action film, one where every punch and shotgun blast opens up both physical and spiritual wounds. Twists and turns accelerate as the film reaches its inevitable destination: a gore-soaked dead end. (Sundance)


USA 2013; R: Ignatiy Vishnevetsky; D: Allison Torem, Stephen Cone, Mallory Nees; 42min, DCP, OV


Ellie ist eine großmäulige junge Frau, die auf einer Party Ned trifft, einen intensiven Mann. Sie flirtet mit ihm für einen Moment, doch ein wirkliches Interesse ist nicht vorhanden. Doch Ned lässt nicht locker. Eine Geistergeschichte ohne Geister ist ELLIE LUMME und der Film unterläuft seine ratternden Dialoge mit einer listigen Ambiguität, die unter die Haut geht. Ein fesselndes Porträt einer zeitgenössischen Boshaftigkeit.

Film critic Ignatiy Vishnevetsky makes the leap to filmmaking with his debut narrative work, a self-described “ghost story without a ghost.” When 22-year-old Ellie meets a slightly older, seemingly infatuated stranger, he soon becomes a constant—and unwelcome—presence in her life. As their relationship grows increasingly disturbed, this meticulously shot, subtly supernatural tale blossoms into a haunting psychological riddle. (BAM)


USA 2014; R: Bingham Bryant, Kyle Molzan; D: Anabelle LeMieux, Rosalie Lowe; DCP, 94min, OV


In einem abgelegenen Haus in Maine analysieren zwei Freundinnen Bilder von diversen CCTV Kameras, die die umliegenden Wälder filmen. Aus diesen Aufnahmen lassen sich zukünftige Entwicklungen der globalen Finanzwirtschaft ablesen. Ausgehend von dieser kryptischen Prämisse entwickelt sich ein intimes lo-fi Abenteuer, das mit Science-Fiction- und Horrorkonventionen liebäugelt und sie gleichzeitig unterwandert. Idyllische Landschaftsbilder treffen auf die Bilderwelt der Überwachungsindustrie.

Quarter-lifer Helen summons her friend—if that’s the right word—Charlie to assist her with some mysterious research involving data provided by CCTV cameras in the woods of an arcadian small fishing village in Maine. “How long have you been doing this?” the newcomer asks the pro, who responds, “A week or a year—makes no difference.” The reply typifies the seductive strangeness and arbitrariness of the plot: Most of Helen and Charlie’s conversations are delivered with zero affect until a raging blowup between the two occurs late one night, never to be acknowledged afterward. FOR THE PLASMA is a modest project of big ideas: about solitude, collaboration, conspiracy, magical thinking.