Frame to Fame

Following Four Filmmakers on Their Journeys, Part 4

By: Ethan Gilsdorf

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Above: l. to r. Year by the Sea writer/director/composer Alexander Janko, actress Celia Imrie, producer Laura Goodenow, and actor Tyler Haines celebrate their West Coast premiere at the Newport Beach Film Festival. Photo: Stephen Russo Media.

This is the fourth and final installment in our series trailing four filmmakers ushering their work along the film festival circuit and into the marketplace.
As the end of 2016 loomed, we asked each of the directors—Raeshelle Cooke (Sometime Around January); Michal Goldman (Nasser’s Republic, The Making of Modern Egypt); Jeff Griecci (Year-round Metal Enjoyment); and Alexander Janko (Year by the Sea)—to reflect on the last year.

(Read the series and additional coverage of the filmmakers here. Stay tuned for news of a public screening and reception with our four directors in 2017.)

Raeshelle Cooke: Sometime Around January

Cooke runs the numbers. Number of festivals she entered Sometime Around January: “forty or so.” Number of festivals that said yes: “around 10.” Aside from being nominated for Best Short at the Shawna Shea Film Fest back in 2015, no big awards. For a short narrative film, there’s rarely hope for any sort of distribution deal. The festival circuit is likely over for this project. “Sometime Around January was a cool film, but I see the errors in it and where I have grown as a filmmaker since making it,” declares Cooke, 26. “People look at my work now and comment on my growth.” It was the sixth film she directed, and looking back at her film now, she sees there’s “a lot of improving to do.” With what seems to be her trademark blend of optimism and confidence, the Taunton-based filmmaker says she’s “happy where I am now because I’m better for it.” Still working as an assistant librarian as her day job, she’s focusing on how she can keep gaining skills and honing her craft, as well as what new films to make including music videos, a comedy and an episode for a political horror series set in a dystopian future under Trump. “[I’m] really excited for these projects,” Cooke says.

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Women cheering Nasser in Kafr El Dawwar, Egypt, May 6, 1968. Courtesy of Michal Goldman.

Michal Goldman: Nasser’s Republic, The Making of Modern Egypt

Reached while in Egypt, just before one of three screenings of Nasser’s Republic, The Making of Modern Egypt at the Cairo International Film Festival, Goldman characterizes her film as “the most complex and difficult in terms of content, and, in some ways, my best work.” In 2016, Goldman entered the documentary in “many festivals” and only four accepted. Still, the final result, at least by one measure, is a success: She inked a domestic distribution deal with Icarus Films and PBS International for foreign distribution.

Yet, the triumph is tinged bittersweet. Cairo may be the end to the festival life of her film, as well as Goldman’s filmmaking career. “I’m pretty sure this is my last film.” In light of the presidential election, Goldman, 72, wants “to see where and how I can be useful,” she says. “I do want to continue to do creative work and socially engaged work, but I don’t think that it will be in cinema.” She’s happy to “leave the field” to other, younger filmmakers.

For now, in Cairo, she’s curious to see what local audiences make of her film about Nasser, a divisive leader who still “looms large” in the Egyptian consciousness. “Even though he died 46 years ago, he remains more controversial than any other political figure. Which tells you that this society is as deeply split as our own.”

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Film calendar at Frontier in Brunswick, ME, where Year-round Metal Enjoyment screened in October 2016.

Jeff Griecci: Year-round Metal Enjoyment 

For Griecci, the stats on his documentary about guerrilla graffiti artists ended up pretty grim. Twenty festivals entered, zero accepted. No awards. This defeat spawned the idea of setting up a DIY, six-day, micro-cinema road trip tour of the Northeast: Portland and Brunswick, ME; Montreal; New York City; Boston; and Providence. “We packed nearly every screening,” Griecci says. He’s particularly proud of two sold-out screenings at the Somerville Theater in Somerville, MA, which led to adding a third. One venue, Providence’s AS220, “opened up for us on a Monday night, when they’re typically closed, as a special and kind gesture.”

Screenings were followed by “energetic” Q&A discussions. With all that behind him, he’s inclined to close festival submissions for Year-round Metal Enjoyment. “It’s time to move on to the next project.” Griecci and his filmmaking partner, Ian Carlsen, are busy writing and revising scripts. “We plan on producing a short fictional narrative this winter, with the intent to submit to festivals the following year.” The Maine-based director also plans to take Year-round Metal Enjoyment to a few more “one-off” screenings in other parts of the country this winter. DVD and on-line self-distribution may be on the horizon as well. Final lesson? “Turns out we had a dedicated audience after all,” says Griecci. He just had to find it.

Alexander Janko: Year by the Sea

Janko’s indie drama starring big-name talent Karen Allen and Celia Imrie had a pretty decent run in 2016. Janko entered Year by the Sea in 82 festivals, and it was accepted into 18; his film also snagged some 16 trophies at medium-sized fests, winning in big jury categories such as Best Feature, Best Director, Best Actress, Best Screenplay and People’s Choice audience award. But now, as the writer and director emphatically puts it, the circuit is, “D-O-N-E.” Janko is “in conversations” with several distributors­­—“major,” “minor” and “indie.” “We’re definitely releasing the film in 2017 with a theatrical partner,” he says. The strategy is a spring launch with a “pre-marketing push” starting Valentine’s Day leading up to Mother’s Day. “[The] lingering question is whether we follow traditional windows or pursue ‘day-and-date.’ We’re leaning toward the former.” The traditional model is a run at the Cineplex, followed by DVD and streaming. Day-and-date means combining “theatrical” and “transactional,” meaning a film hits movie theaters, DVD shelves and outlets such as iTunes, Amazon and other VOD (video on demand) services all on the same day.

“[The] only way to determine if a film has legs is to give it time in theaters,” he says. But a film’s best shot at visibility is to “make it available on all platforms.” But as Janko moves ahead, he is also looking back at his Year by the Sea. He describes the ride with superlatives: a privilege, an honor, a gift that keeps on giving. “This filmmaking journey was one of my most profound and enlightening creative experiences.”

Ethan Gilsdorf is a frequent contributor to Art New England, an author and a writer for the New York Times, Boston Globe, Boston Globe Magazine, Boston Magazine, Salon, and Wired.

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