Actor, writer, director Catherine Eaton, a new powerful emerging voice in cinema, will be in Tucson with her highly acclaimed film, The Sounding. We are excited to have Catherine share her insight into the art of language, and raising important issues about how we perceive the world.
AIFF - How was blank verse cinematic to you when you first visualized the film and how it translated into the films imagery during production?
Catherine - The character of Liv – and her eventual journey to speaking blank verse – existed as a play before I conceived of it as a film, so rather than the verse inspiring the film, the verse inspired the character and the character inspired the film. The film isn't really about Shakespeare or verse at its core; that's a tool Liv uses (and I use) to tell the story of the film, but not its center.
That said, I think there is a similarity in the rhythm an edit lends a film and the rhythm verse lends language. The same is true of music and film – music has a rhythm that influences the cut of a film (and our emotional response to it). And there is certainly a relationship between music and verse, so it seems to me verse and film have the ability to yield a similar potential symbiosis.
Also, there is a creative opportunity available: poetry tends to prioritize sound and image (vs. literal meaning), and the same could be argued about film (and sound/image vs. plot).
As to the second half of your question, it was my intention that the film's verse not translate into the film's imagery (doing essentially the same job), but rather, that they would at times compliment and at times contrast each other while striking separate notes.
AIFF - In your performance of the poetry from each play, as an actor, how did you approach a role this complex and make the language flow so seamlessly with co-actors speaking back to you in prose?
Catherine - In his own plays, Shakespeare's poetry all stems from each character's need to communicate or “get” something from another character. The poetry of each line – the rhythm and sound – are always in service of that communication (An example of this is Juliet's speech “Take him and cut him out in little stars” – the imagery and her breathless impatience is contained in the sounds of the words, as well as the meaning).
In the case of THE SOUNDING, even though Liv is using Shakespeare's words outside of the context of his plays, their primary purpose is still the same: to communicate, to get what she wants. And so as long as I (in playing Liv) used those words – both their meaning and their sound – to really say something to the other characters and try to get something from them, then there wasn't really any difference between how they spoke and how I was speaking.
AIFF - In pre-production with your amazing cinematographer, and art department, what did you discuss regarding the color palette of the film to complement or contrast your character, and co-stars performances?
Catherine - My production designer Rocio Gimenez is a genuine artist, so we had long in-depth conversations about the themes of THE SOUNDING and Liv's connection to the island. I had lots of images and clips I had pulled as references that I shared with Rocio. From that, Rocio went away and created her own mood boards to reflect her interpretation of all of that, and the result was the draining of color as Liv moves from the natural wild raw beauty and power of the island to the man-made arena of the psychiatric hospital. We knew we would begin with the greens and blue-grays found on these islands off the coast of Maine and have that inform everything – and then Rocio had the wonderful idea of imbuing the interior of the home Liv shares with her grandfather Lionel with deep burgundy reds as it is their emotional center and where the catalyzing event of the film takes place. So the palette begins rich, gets richer, and then – snap – when we hit that catalyzing incident, from that point forward color is drained from palette of the film to the point where the final fifteen minutes of the film takes place almost exclusively in a white room.
THE SOUNDING's incredibly talented DP David Kruta and I chose a camera and lenses (Alexa and Leica) that would allow us to really enhance those natural colors but achieve a clinical sharpness on the other end of the film, and he further emphasized that color-concept with lighting – working from source-sensitive, reverse-key lighting and natural light and progressing through to brighter harsher exposed aggressive lighting.
Finally, Caitlin Conci, our fantastic costume designer, reflected all that in the color palette and textures of the clothing of the characters. For instance, Liv is always in natural colors – even in the hospital – supporting the essence of the character regardless of environment, and Michael progresses from contained layers to loser fibers and rustic patterns as he loses the careful constructs he brought with him to the island.
AIFF - I believe your film asks a lot of important questions. Do we really need answers or is starting a conversation about the freedom to be who you want to be enough?
I'm so glad to hear you say the film raises a lot of important questions, thank you. As a filmmaker, one of my goals is to raise questions rather than answer them, and to present new ways of looking – be it at an issue, at a person, at a culture - that we may not yet have experienced. When we live with certain norms (as a society or as an individual), it can become difficult to see outside of the box we are presented with. I'm very interested in what's outside that box.
As far as the specific concept of having the freedom to be who you want to be (and of equal importance, allowing others to be who they want to be), I don't think questions are enough, no. But questions are a point of entrance for change.
AIFF - Why did you choose Pyramus and Thisbe for the play within the film? Does it have special meaning to you personally?
Catherine - I chose it because it's funny and brief and entertaining and the players are always the subject of affection and mockery (which was valuable at this point for Michael's character within the film) - but most importantly I chose it because it allowed me to stage a twist at the end of that scene (no spoilers!) that we've never seen before which served the film and the play within the film. To see a new twist on staging of ANY of Shakespeare's work that has never been seen before is a rare opportunity!
Kate Can't Swim
Amazing writing, directing, and acting team Jennifer Allcott and Josh Helman are here with their poignant and gripping film, Kate Can’t Swim about the complexities of love, relationships, and forging ahead with renewed spirit.
AIFF - What was the most challenging scene emotionally and how did you work through it?
Josh and Jen - The most challenging scene emotionally was probably the break-up scene. It’s a really challenging scene for any actor, not only emotionally, but especially considering the improvisational nature of the film - it’s not easy to go deeply into a break-up scene without specific words to work with. We were fortunate to have worked on that scene in rehearsals, though, and doubly fortunate to have had the actors we did - not only could they handle the improvisation, they could handle the dexterity of moving from beat to beat through the scene while never losing their connection to their characters’ emotional lives. We shot two takes that ran almost 15 minutes each. At the end of the second take there was a group of about six of us, huddled in the next room around the tiny monitor, crying. We thought that was probably a good sign that we got it.
AIFF - As a writing team and or directing team, were there elements of the film that you absolutely felt needed to be there, and if you disagreed how you did ultimately resolve the issues?
Josh and Jen - What we found worked for us was to lock ourselves in a room and go back and forth through each beat. One of Jen’s great strengths is a real handle on emotional texture and emotional logic, and one of my particular strengths is structure and unity. So together we found that the best way of doing things was to build it together so that we were both happy and felt our particular ways were honored. We always knew that the film had to be in Kate’s perspective at the beginning, but that at the midpoint we would (hopefully) divorce ourselves from her perspective as her nuances and the other characters’ nuances come to light, which we felt would allow us to see every one of the four characters in an increasingly different light, so that by the end you were surprised by every one of them. That was key to us.
AIFF - What would you hope your female audience takes away from the film?
Josh and Jen - We hope that the film feels truthful to everyone who sees it, male and female alike. It was very important to me that the depiction of the relationships be realistic and naturalistic and not tethered to any traditional notion. Jen and I are committed to writing roles that are complex, interesting and human - particularly our roles for women. We’re often irritated by how women are portrayed in media, and as actors we have seen the inner workings of that firsthand. To study the casting breakdowns for female roles can be a maddening and sad experience. As a director, all I want to do is be able to tell a truthful, engaging and hopefully moving story and never lose sight of my own particular biases in the process. And on a personal note, I am white and male and as such I can never fully know the ins and outs of being female or a minority but if I’m going to be a part of that conversation then I want to listen and learn and make sure that my part in it adds to the conversation instead of subtracting from it or muddying it.
AIFF - How did your lakeside location set the tone of the film?
Josh and Jen - I think it helped in a few ways - it was an effective misdirection for us in cinematic terms, because cabins in the woods tend to be places where young people die - and we wanted to use that to our advantage in getting our first impressions of Nick. But also it is a place that suggests a kind of timelessness - especially that particular location - and what I think that does is allow us to subconsciously feel the time passing in these characters’ lives - these people will inevitably change as sure as the cabin and these woods will remain. And finally it was just helpful to emphasize different aspects of the woods and the cabin when we needed to feel claustrophobia, remoteness, and finally a reawakening.
Father and Son
Luong Dinh Dung is visiting Tucson with his film Father and Son, depicting the harrowing journey that shows the strength of a father’s love of his child. This epic and intimate film shows the strong sense of community families share along a glowingly picturesque river that becomes an awesome force of nature.
AIFF - How did you get Do Trong Tan as Ca and Ngo The Quan as Moc to work so well together on film and how did you direct the young actor to give such a strong performance?
Dung - For Tan as Ca, I did not explain the screenplay to him; he’s too young to understand the character in the film. I narrated it to him as though it was a story for kids instead. Similar to Tan, I suggested Quan not to study the script deeply and not to rehearse in advance nor ask others for advice on how to act. He might do so because of a fact that he has not married yet.
Besides, I let Tan and Quan stay together for some days before shooting. They lived, played and learned some skills together like swimming or sailing. So they quickly love each other. When we did the real shooting, I often described the situation and let them act it out by their nature. Only when it did not match my ideas, did I make some adjustments.
AIFF - What issues did you and Bui Kim Quy face writing the film? What were the challenges of working together and working out such a challenging story?
Dung - The first difficulty was that we had to balance our creativity and budget limit. We always wanted put as much creative details as possible into the film to make the story impressive and interesting but this was an independent project that I had to cover the production cost by myself, so we had to take all the details into consideration to find out what we need to retain and the details that we can omit for cost savings.
For example, the detail of rain on the hill is an indispensable detail, but the cost to bring equipment and crew to the hilltop is huge and difficult. Another detail is the families avoiding the flood at the top of the hill. We did consider that we might change that shelter to a lower location instead of the hilltop. However, it will reduce the characteristics of reality and excitement of the film. Finally, we still choose the first option.
The second difficulty is to find out the unique way of telling the story. As a matter of fact, the subject of family affection is a familiar theme in film and has been exploited by many people. So we have to choose between to follow the familiar style of telling the story and to do our own style, that is, I let the story unfold as naturally as in our daily life, so that the story develops itself. I am like a person who holds the camera and captures the life of the character instead of asking them to follow what I want them to act. Feelings and climax depend on each of the audience. And that’s what I did in my movie.
Regarding working with Bui Kim Quy, she was a truly creative scriptwriter with lots of amazing ideas. However, it’s unavoidable that we sometimes encounter some disagreements. Each of us wanted to keep our own idea. At that time, we had to stop and share our thoughts as well as explanation; whose ideas support most the plot will be chosen. (Father and son is the spin-off of my short story written in 1995)
AIFF - Before shooting the film, what did you and cinematographer Ly Thai Dung discuss about the difficulties and artistic style of shooting in remote locations and contrasting that with the city?
Dung - We discussed about the remote locations of the hilltop and river and the harsh weather, because the rain and the flood in this area were unpredictable so we all agreed on the flexibility of the scene, as well as be ready to adjust the script a bit to fit with the current situations on the setting. I also expressed my desire to capture the true nature with DOP Ly Thai Dung, so that we could prepare for the scene. And luckily we did that after many failed attempts. We use most of the natural light to make the film more real. Also, we agreed to use a variety of wide shots to portray all the beauty of nature in those locations. And we restrict doing CU shots, so actors can act in the most natural way. All the shots in the mountainous area were beautiful and dreamy while shooting in the city was done as real as a fact in life.
AIFF - What does this film mean personally for you, it feels like your film was made with great care for subjects that you dealt with?
Dung - The incident I saw when I was a child is one of those reasons that urge me to make this movie. There was a son holding a wooden bar hitting his father’s head until he falls down. At that time I painfully felt the sense of powerlessness. In Vietnam society today, the act of violence from the parents, children’s mistreat to their parents, family separation happen every day. I wished that I could have done something to make this society better.
Another powerful reason of mine was because of my mother. My family lived in poor mountainous area and we never travelled by the airplane at that time. My mother kept wondering how it would feel to be on a plane flying high in the sky. Unfortunately, she passed away several years later before she could do that. It was the dream of hers as well as mine. I also had a chance to catch the delightful eyes of the children looking up to the sky when the airplane went pass.
All those things drove for me to write the story and to make this movie.
And until now it’s my deep belief that my movie has contributed to create huge impact, calling people to cherish family relationship, provoke affection inside every human being not only in Vietnam, but more in global term.
AIFF - What scenes were the most enjoyable, or satisfying to shoot, if you had to choose one or two?
Dung - The first impressive scene is the father and the son sitting together on the driftwood with a flock of white birds flying high on the sky as a background. It is extremely peaceful and tranquil but at the same time shows the latent ferocity and ruthlessness of nature. The second scene is the one of the blind man appearing gradually on the hill, carrying five kids on the bike on his back. It evokes unforgettable memories in those audiences who used to live in the mountainous area of Vietnam.