Ride Report was last night’s Best Doc Feature winner. We talked with Tiernan Turner, co-director of the film (with Matt Kendall) about the inspiration for his travel doc.
Festivus: Tell us a little about your film and where this idea came from.
Tiernan: Sometimes inspiration can rise from desperation. In 2007, I (Tiernan) was working in a post house in LA as a runner. I hated it. One miserable day, an epiphany came to me: I needed an adventure. Something mysterious, dangerous, exotic… For whatever reason, South America came to mind. When Matt jumped on board, motorcycles and the idea of making a proper film transpired. Two years later we’d committed ourselves to both the journey and the film. Looking back, if it weren’t for that miserable job, I might not have taken the trip of a lifetime.
Festivus: What exotic locations do we get to visit on Ride Report?
Tiernan: Too many to list! Some of my favorites are:
-San Juan del Sur, Nicaragua
-Peninsula de Osa, Costa Rica
-Ibera Wetlands, Argentina
-Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
Festivus: There are a lot of documentaries that fall into the “travel” genre. What are some adventure docs that you would recommend?
Tiernan: Actually, we had a hard time finding examples to follow. What influenced us most was the series Long Way Round. The Endless Summer is also a film that I wanted people to associate with Ride Report.
Festivus: Did you make this film so that your friends could be jealous you went to all these cool places? Be honest.
Tiernan: I was originally planning on making some webisodes, but Matt insisted on making the film. Honestly, many of my friends told me I shouldn’t go because it’s too dangerous down there! I did the trip because I wanted to challenge myself and create lasting memories- the film is an added bonus.
Ride Report screens tonight at 5PM!
Tonight’s 7pm screening has been cancelled. Our 3pm and 5pm blocks are still on. Please be safe out there and don’t wind up like this guy.
One of the more chilling shorts this year is Incident on Highway 73. We talked to filmmaker Brian Thompson about the making of this strange tale, which centers on a young couple who gets stranded in the desert.
Festivus: What kind of desert drive did you take that inspired this film?
Brian: The film was inspired by a trip to the Grand Canyon my wife and I took. We had been looking for this awesome lookout point we heard about. According to some map we had was down a long dirt road and in the middle of nowhere. So we headed down the road…. figuring it would be a cool drive and some cool scenery along the way and there was probably a million other people there too…About 2 or 3 miles in there was an old van broken down pushed into the side of the road and an middle aged frazzled looking woman ran out and tried flagging us down, then I saw a man standing in the brush just outside of what maybe he thought was my field of vision. Of course… I didn’t stop… Not because I don’t like to help people but because I had an uneasy feeling, something about the situation felt like a setup… I felt vulnerable out there in the middle of nowhere with no weapons and no one else around and for all I knew this guy was gonna pop out and hack us up and wear our skin on his face… (we had no cell reception either)
So I sped past the woman and kept going…. I felt bad but Id rather them sit on the roadside then have my wife and I end up dead…. We made it to the lookout point and it was EMPTY nobody around, we decided not to really take much time because we were spooked about the creepy people… We knew we would have to pass them again on the way back, so I sped back past that spot again 35-40 min later without stopping or looking around…
When we reached the bottom of the hill, I went to the closest ranger station and let him know there was a van broken down and the people might need help. So if they truly weren’t maniacs, at least help was on the way… Michael Kirk the writer of Incident on Highway 73 and myself were tossing ideas around and I had mentioned that story to him, and we took that idea and ran with it, of course we added a sci-fi element and its different story all together, but we wanted to capture that feeling of vulnerability and isolation. A common thing I think we all can relate to, unless your the homicidal maniac in the desert waiting for somebody to drive by so you can kill them and wear their skin on your face…
Festivus: You do a great job of maintaining suspense throughout the story. How do you keep your actors in that fearful mindset while you’re shooting? What do you tell them?
Brian: I think the location really helped, we shot out at this old desert highway and when you pull up to it there are just hundreds and hundreds of bullet casings everywhere, like its the site for a horror film where innocent people are shot to death…. in fact even when we location scouted there was always some shifty people blasting guns off out there drinking beers and what not… So as soon as you roll up to this place you have these desert people with guns and just you in the middle of nowhere, which really helps keep the fearful mindset. But the truth is I had two incredible Actors Elizabeth Schmidt and Ian Alda… We rehearsed a few times before going into the desert and Michael Kirk did such a great job with the script I think they were very prepared when we arrived. Although we shot very quickly because of weather and time constraints, we did go through each scene before shooting and discuss what was happening, what had happened and what was about to happen. And then of course we were always looking over our shoulder to see if somebody with a gun was rolling up on us…. As we were pretty vulnerable shooting this film.
Festivus: Some great effects work happens near the end. Without spoiling it, can you talk about how you did it? It was very cleverly done!
Brian: As far as the effects work that’s a combination of a lot of elements that I really didn’t know if it would work but we just went for it! I don’t want to give to much away, but I will say we had some amazing stunt coordinators on the film who helped with some of the complex stuff Kurt Lott, BJ Davis, Casey Adams and Rich Minga were all very integral to the stunt work and to Elizabeths credit, it was her first time ever doing any type of stunt work like that, we really put her through the ringer.
INCIDENT ON HIGHWAY 73 SCREENS IN THE TWISTED TALES SHORTS BLOCK
Jason Nardella is the documentary filmmaker behind 78 days, a powerful film about the surprisingly brutal conditions behind tree planting and what the lifestyle really does to the body and the mind. He talks to us about his experience as a tree planter, and why he wanted to make the film.
Festivus: 78 Days looks at a unique lifestyle, which presents an equal amount of positives/negatives. Was there a particular experience you’d like to share that inspired you to make this documentary?
Jason: I planted trees for almost 12 seasons, from 1997 to 2010. Throughout those years, the idea to make a documentary about reforestation and the tree planting experience was something I thought about regularly. I always felt that the extreme living and working conditions that tree planters have to deal would make for an entertaining documentary setting.
I remember one year, a very intense wind/rainstorm ripped apart our camp, tents were flying all over the place and the helicopter was flipped over. That really made me think, “It sure would be nice to have a camera right now”. Originally, I wanted to explore reforestation across Canada and try to capture the essence of the culture and lifestyle of tree planters. By the time I started shooting, my focus had changed and I realized that to make it interesting, the documentary really had to be character driven, so my focus shifted to a more intimate portrait of veteran planters.
Festivus: Tree planting seems like a very fun way of spending the summer, but by the end of your movie that perception is left rather ambiguous. The money may be good, but the job seems to be for the young at heart. Why would you recommend the job to anyone, and also, why would you not recommend it?
Jason: Tree planting attracts many College and University students since it is a very effective way to earn a decent amount of money in just a few months. Full-time students can live on their reforestation earnings during the entire school year, allowing them to focus on their studies and removing the stress of a part-time job.
As “78 Days” shows, reforestation is both physically and mentally taxing, and the isolation and monotony of the work can definitely take a toll on you morale. Some think of tree planters as being lazy slackers who don’t want to work, and I’m sure there are some like that. But, in general, I have found most tree planters to be dedicated individuals who can commit to suffering for a few months, knowing that the months of time off will be well worth the pain.
Since tree planting is piece work (i.e.: you are paid about 10 cents per tree that you plant), you need to be self motivated and must be willing to work by yourself all day. You must also live in a tent outdoors for several months at the mercy of nature, away from all the comforts of home. In “78 Days”, most of the characters I follow are long time planters that are at the end of their careers and burnt out from hardships of the usually long season.
Festivus: Are you still tree planting or have you moved away from it? What is your current lifestyle like and has it benefited from your experience?
Jason: I quit tree planting in 2010 and now work in film and television in Montreal. Although I know a few planters in their late 30′s and early 40′s that still plant over 4000 trees a day in northern Alberta, I had a hard time finding motivation in my last years as a planter. After 12 seasons, I had enough of spending 3 to 4 months in desolate swamp lands and was fed up with sleeping in a tent. When I decided to stop planting, I knew I had to find seasonal work so I could still have months off in the winter to go travel and play.
The film and television industry in Montreal is mostly seasonal and there isn’t much work in the winter. This has allowed me to maintain a similar lifestyle as planting. Instead of working 3 months, I have to work 6-7 months and I’m fine with that, as long as I get to escape the cold months of winter misery. I usually go surfing in Mexico or snowboarding in Western Canada. Those 12 years of tree planting across Canada definitely formed my personality and built character. It is the toughest job I have ever had and almost every other work I do seems easy in comparison.
Festivus: Are you interested in making any more documentary films? If so what subjects interest you?
Jason: I hope to make other documentaries as well as fiction films since I enjoy both. The challenge in documentary is to maintain an entertaining visual flow while creating a compelling story that will entertain and educate the viewer. I am interested in individuals who live unconventional lives and follow their passion.
I think my next documentary will be about an elderly couple who operate a small farm/orchard just outside Montreal. They are over 70, work alone and cultivate some of the best produce and apple cider in the province. On “78 Days”, I worked mostly alone. I would be motivated by collaborating with some other filmmakers, like my friend, Adam Dewolfe who is a surf photographer and videographer.
78 Days screens part of THE DOC BLOCK, today at 4pm @ The Oriental Theater
Filmmaker Aaron Rudelson is the sicko mastermind behind FOODIE, showing in the Laugh Track Comedy Shorts block. He told us about making his film, and the nastiest thing he ever ate.
Festivus: We loved Foodie. Can you tell us where you got this disgusting idea from?
Aaron: That’s a good question, since it’s a pretty weird idea. I was actually editing a film for another director and there was a scene in it where a woman was eating some ramen noodles. I was moving the play head backwards and forwards looking for the cut point and couldn’t help laughing watching perfectly intact noodles come out of her mouth. So I thought there must be a way to develop a story around that. As it turns out, there was.
Festivus: The short could have easily turned into a gross-out-fest. What stopped you?
Aaron: It may not be apparent, but I’m really not into being gross for gross’s sake. I’m more interested in anxiety. In this case, the anxiety of the characters and the anxiety of the audience who is never really quite sure how much they’re going to see. Personally, I think it’s that anticipation which makes the film engaging.
Festivus: What’s the nastiest thing you’ve eaten?
Aaron: Sea Urchin. Never again!
Festivus: What’s next on your “plate”?
Aaron: I have two features in development. One is a dark comedy called NORMAN PINSKI COME HOME. The other is a comic B-movie horror film called ATTACK OF THE MAN EATING SEWER SLUG. One of them may manifest itself first as a short film in the near future. More info is available at www.savantfilms.net
FOODIE SCREENS TONIGHT AT 9PM @ THE ORIENTAL THEATER
Justin Springer is the director of ALONG RECOVERY, screening tonight. We talked with Justin about the making of his first documentary, which was a personal project he’s been working on for a very long time.
FF: As a veteran, you must have had some very interesting and complicated feelings about your experiences. Can you share some of those with us and how they informed your documentary?
Justin: My unit experienced an extremely high rate of blast-related traumatic brain injuries (TBI) while we were deployed–as did most combat units. When I returned from my second deployment, the military was publicly acknowledging a full-blown epidemic of brain injuries amongst combat troops. In our first month home, two Soldiers in my Battalion suffering from TBI committed suicide, and there were many other attempts. Rumors were rampant amongst the ranks about the fate of those receiving treatment. There was a full-blown “red scare” surrounding the injury–many Soldiers who were suffering from serious symptoms would avoid treatment for fear of damaging their careers. The media was having a field-day reporting on the injury–but I felt that major news media could only provide a very peripheral (and potentially editorial) perspective of what was really happening. Following my discharge from active duty, I set-out to discover a Soldier’s perspective on the injury and recovery process.
FF: When you first decided to make Along Recovery, where did you begin the journey? Was there a certain starting point? Was this a story mapped out in your head or did you find it during editing?
Justin: It was my goal to capture four different perspectives of the injury that would be emblematic of the greater population of Soldiers suffering from TBI. My only qualification when choosing the Soldiers was that they each have just been evacuated from combat with brain injuries–so that I could capture the recovery process from the very beginning. During the first couple months of treatment, I remained a casual observer filming various treatments/appointments at the hospital. As I began to gain each Soldier’s trust, I would ask questions from behind the camera about their experiences–I tried to walk the fine-line between casual observer and confidant. I filmed daily at the hospital with each Soldier for a year, and then for another year as each Soldier transitioned out of the Army or back to a unit–I had no way to predict what their experiences would be like–the story really came together in the editing process.
FF: What was the most difficult part of making this film?
Justin: Editing! I shot nearly 250 hours of footage. Sifting through the raw footage and finding the meaningful aspects of each Soldier’s recovery was incredibly challenging. The editing process took 18months altogether. I also felt a great amount of pressure to accurately portray the true nature of the injury and the personality of each Soldier. Recent war documentaries too often melodramatize a Soldier’s plight in order to push the filmmaker’s editorial agenda. I wanted to remain as objective as possible–depicting the injury truly from a Soldier’s perspective.
FF: Are there any future documentaries for you on the horizon?
Justin: I hope so. I am researching a couple different topics at the moment, all of which are non-war related.
ALONG RECOVERY SCREENS TONIGHT AT 9PM, ORIENTAL THEATER
Okay folks, the time is upon us. OPENING NIGHT IS TOMORROW! You can buy tix online up until 1 hour before each screening, otherwise tickets will be available at the door. Can’t wait to get our indie on for the 6th time. SEE YOU SOON DENVER!