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Tribeca ’08: Dori Berinstein on “Gotta Dance”

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04292008_gottadance1.jpgBy Stephen Saito

[For complete coverage of the 2008 Tribeca Film Festival, check out IFC’s Tribeca page.]

It’s not unusual to see a filmmaker appear at two different festivals in two months, but usually, it’s with the same film. If Dori Berinstein is aiming to be the most popular documentarian around, she’s certainly not wasting time.

After wowing audiences at SXSW only a month ago with “Some Assembly Required,” a film that followed a kiddie competition to build a new toy, Berinstein is back at Tribeca with another crowd-pleaser, “Gotta Dance,” which goes to the opposite end of the age spectrum to chronicle the inaugural season of the Netsationals, a dance squad comprised of 60-year-olds and above. (It actually makes sense that their jersey numbers reflect their ages, which top out at 83.) While some of the dancers in “Gotta Dance” have a reverse legacy — their granddaughters are on the official Nets dance team — most are amateurs there to find fun and in some cases, themselves. If that sounds a lot like another senior citizen documentary making the rounds, trust us when we say these seniors follow the beat of a different drummer — or rather, Fat Joe.

Berinstein is no stranger to multitasking, considering that she also produces Broadway shows, a subject that became the inspiration for her first documentary, “Show Business.” Still, in the midst of her festival two-step, she found time to talk about the senior dancers that brought a smile to Walt Frazier’s face and her own complicated dance during the past year.

“Some Assembly Required” and “Gotta Dance” are opposites in many ways, but geographically, you had to cover so much ground on “Some Assembly Required” that it must’ve been kind of a relief to do “Gotta Dance,” which was all set in New Jersey.

Yes and no. It was more complicated than that because I did post-production on “Some Assembly Required” in Los Angeles. I really wasn’t expecting to be shooting “Gotta Dance.” It just came up, and I can explain how it happened, but I was much more West Coast when I was shooting this East Coast movie. I produce Broadway shows, and when we were launching production on “Gotta Dance,” I had to be in San Francisco with “Legally Blonde” [for preview performances], so I basically spent last spring on an airplane.

04292008_gottadance2.jpgWhy did you choose to make your life so crazy?

I didn’t think it was going to be a problem to do a film and a Broadway show at the same time. They both gestate for a long time and there was no way to avoid overlap there and that would’ve been fine. But in the back of my mind, I’d been thinking about wanting to do a film on the issue of aging. I didn’t want it to be talking heads, I didn’t want it to be in your face. I wanted it to be fun and celebratory and all about taking advantage of this time to chase your dreams. I had no plans to start a new project. No plans! But I read in the paper that the Nets were holding this audition for a senior dance team and I had to check it out. I went to the Nets headquarters and started to get to know these incredible people, and I had to tell their story.

Was it an interesting experience to go from being around young kids in “Some Assembly Required” to seniors?

It was fantastic. With both the kids and the seniors, everybody got comfortable with the cameras and we became just a familiar fly on the wall. I find that with kids and with the senior group, it’s easier than shooting with…let’s just say 18 to 55, who are more aware of the camera and are thinking about consequences. Both the kids and the seniors were completely lost in what they were doing and so passionate [it] that they forgot the camera was there.

During the film, the Netsationals get quite a bit of media attention. Did their growing celebrity pose a problem for you?

The only thing I noticed after they received so much attention from the press and made so many appearances is that they knew the drill. When I had to put a lav on them, they knew exactly what to do. [laughs] They were seasoned in that way. But I wasn’t there to capture their performing, I was there to capture their struggle, their adventure. I was with them when it was all happening for the first time — their joy and surprise, looking at themselves in newspapers and on TV. They were, overjoyed and it was exciting to capture that.

Between the dance performances, you let the camera roll on some interesting dinner conversations. How did those come about?

When we were with [the Netsationals] as a group, they were rehearsing, moving, very focused on what they were doing. The conversation was not about their lives and their families and their past, it was about how you do a swivel hip, how you do that kick. It didn’t give us the chance to see them in a broader way.

When they started to get comfortable with each other and started to go out together to meals and dinners, we asked to tag along because that was when the conversation became much more diverse. They started to talk about issues having to do with their lives and, in a bigger way, what they thought about what they were doing, that wouldn’t have happened while they were taking a break from their rehearsals. They enjoy each other so much — when Fanny [one of the older Netsationals] took them all line dancing, that was so much fun.

04292008_gottadance3.jpgThere are a lot of poignant moments in the film — one I found particularly moving was when Betty (a school teacher who becomes one of the dancers) is shopping at Macy’s and tells the other dancers how she never wanted to wear heels because she didn’t want to appear to be taller than her husband — did those moments catch you off guard?

I loved it. [laughs] I adore Betty so much because she wears her heart on her sleeve, her struggle to figure out who she is now in her sixties. I know people of that age who are going through the same thing, so I was thrilled to be able to capture that honesty, that everybody was so supportive of her as she was trying to figure out who she is. That camaraderie and the support that they all have for each other was a lovely thing to capture.

Do you have a particular favorite moment?

I would say that first performance, when they were so nervous and they have such self-doubt not only about their ability to remember everything and to put on a good show, but [because] they had no idea how the audience was going to react. It was thrilling to be there with them when they took a deep breath and went for it out on there on center court and the roof of the Meadowlands just went flying off. They were just embraced by the fans, and their joy afterwards, their exhilaration, was really exciting. We all had goosebumps.

So many documentaries are serious, and between “Some Assembly Required,” “Gotta Dance” and your first documentary “Show Business,” it seems like you’re rebelling against that. How did you decide to become the fun documentary filmmaker?

I’m glad that you feel they’re fun, but I think that, to me, what’s common about all of them is that they’re about people chasing their dreams and giving their dream everything they’ve got, throwing their complete passion into something, regardless of the risks. You have that in “Show Business,” you have that with the kids starting from a blank page and surprising themselves at what they’ve been able to create together as a team and then certainly with the seniors, most of them really in a million years never thought they’d be doing what they’re doing. They’re very much about chasing your dreams and being the best you can be — that that’s the common thread. I love stories like that. All these people that I’ve been able to capture really inspire me.

[Photos: “Gotta Dance,” Dramatic Forces, 2008]

For more on “Gotta Dance,” check out the official site here.

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A-O Rewind

Celebrating Portlandia One Sketch at a Time

The final season of Portlandia approaches.

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Most people measure time in minutes, hours, days, years…At IFC, we measure it in sketches. And nothing takes us way (waaaaaay) back like Portlandia sketches. Yes, there’s a Portlandia milepost from every season that changed the way we think, behave, and pickle things. In honor of Portlandia’s 8th and final season, Subaru presents a few of our favorites.


Put A Bird On It

Portlandia enters the pop-culture lexicon and inspires us to put birds on literally everything.

Colin the Chicken

Who’s your chicken, really? Behold the emerging locavore trend captured perfectly to the nth degree.

Dream Of The ’90s

This treatise on Portland made it clear that “the dream” was alive and well.

No You Go

We Americans spend most of our lives in cars. Fortunately, there’s a Portlandia sketch for every automotive situation.

A-O River!

We learned all our outdoor survival skills from Kath and Dave.

One More Episode

The true birth of binge watching, pre-Netflix. And what you’ll do once Season 8 premieres.

Catch up on Portlandia’s best moments before the 8th season premieres January 18th on IFC.

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WTF Films

Artfully Off

Celebrity All-Star by Sisters Weekend is available now on IFC's Comedy Crib.

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Sisters Weekend isn’t like other comedy groups. It’s filmmaking collaboration between besties Angelo Balassone, Michael Fails and Kat Tadesco, self-described lace-front addicts with great legs who write, direct, design and produce video sketches and cinematic shorts that are so surreally hilarious that they defy categorization. One such short film, Celebrity All-Star, is the newest addition to IFC’s Comedy Crib. Here’s what they had to say about it in a very personal email interview…


IFC: How would you describe Celebrity All-Star to a fancy network executive you just met in an elevator?

Celebrity All-Star is a short film about an overworked reality TV coordinator struggling to save her one night off after the cast of C-List celebrities she wrangles gets locked out of their hotel rooms.

IFC: How would you describe Celebrity All-Star to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

Sisters Weekend: It’s this short we made for IFC where a talent coordinator named Karen babysits a bunch of weird c-list celebs who are stuck in a hotel bar. It’s everyone you hate from reality TV under one roof – and that roof leaks because it’s a 2-star hotel. There’s a magician, sexy cowboys, and a guy wearing a belt that sucks up his farts.


IFC: What was the genesis of Celebrity All-Star?

Celebrity All-Star was born from our love of embarrassing celebrities. We love a good c-lister in need of a paycheck! We were really interested in the canned politeness people give off when forced to mingle with strangers. The backstory we created is that the cast of this reality show called “Celebrity All-Star” is in the middle of a mandatory round of “get to know each other” drinks in the hotel bar when the room keys stop working. Shows like Celebrity Ghost Hunters and of course The Surreal Life were of inspo, but we thought it
was funny to keep it really vague what kind of show they’re on, and just focus on everyone’s diva antics after the cameras stop rolling.

IFC: Every celebrity in Celebrity All-Star seems familiar. What real-life pop personalities did you look to for inspiration?

Sisters Weekend: Anyone who is trying to plug their branded merch that no one asked for. We love low-rent celebrity. We did, however, directly reference Kylie Jenner’s turd-raison lip color for our fictional teen celebutante Gibby Kyle (played by Mary Houlihan).


IFC: Celebrity seems disgusting yet desirable. What’s your POV? Do you crave it, hate it, or both?

Sisters Weekend: A lot of people chase fame. If you’re practical, you’ll likely switch to chasing success and if you’re smart, you’ll hopefully switch to chasing happiness. But also, “We need money. We need hits. Hits bring money, money bring power, power bring fame, fame change the game,” Young Thug.


IFC: Who are your comedy idols?

Sisters Weekend: Mike grew up renting “Monty Python” tapes from the library and staying up late to watch 2000’s SNL, Kat was super into Andy Kaufman and “Kids In The Hall” in high school, and Angelo was heavily influenced by “Strangers With Candy” and Anna Faris in the Scary Movie franchise, so, our comedy heroes mesh from all over. But, also we idolize a lot of the people we work with in NY-  Lorelei Ramirez, Erin Markey, Mary Houlihan, who are all in the film, Amy Zimmer, Ana Fabrega, Patti Harrison, Sam Taggart. Geniuses! All of Em!

IFC: What’s your favorite moment from the film?

Sisters Weekend: I mean…seeing Mary Houlihan scream at an insane Pomeranian on an iPad is pretty great.

See Sisters Weekend right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib

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Reality? Check.

Baroness For Life

Baroness von Sketch Show is available for immediate consumption.

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Baroness von Sketch Show is snowballing as people have taken note of its subtle and not-so-subtle skewering of everyday life. The New York Times, W Magazine, and Vogue have heaped on the praise, but IFC had a few more probing questions…

IFC: To varying degrees, your sketches are simply scripted examples of things that actually happen. What makes real life so messed up?

Aurora: Hubris, Ego and Selfish Desires and lack of empathy.

Carolyn: That we’re trapped together in the 3rd Dimension.

Jenn: 1. Other people 2. Other people’s problems 3. Probably something I did.

IFC: A lot of people I know have watched this show and realized, “Dear god, that’s me.” or “Dear god, that’s true.” Why do people have their blinders on?

Aurora: Because most people when you’re in the middle of a situation, you don’t have the perspective to step back and see yourself because you’re caught up in the moment. That’s the job of comedians is to step back and have a self-awareness about these things, not only saying “You’re doing this,” but also, “You’re not the only one doing this.” It’s a delicate balance of making people feel uncomfortable and comforting them at the same time.


IFC: Unlike a lot of popular sketch comedy, your sketches often focus more on group dynamics vs iconic individual characters. Why do you think that is and why is it important?

Meredith: We consider the show to be more based around human dynamics, not so much characters. If anything we’re more attracted to the energy created by people interacting.

Jenn: So much of life is spent trying to work it out with other people, whether it’s at work, at home, trying to commute to work, or even on Facebook it’s pretty hard to escape the group.

IFC: Are there any comedians out there that you feel are just nailing it?

Aurora: I love Key and Peele. I know that their show is done and I’m in denial about it, but they are amazing because there were many times that I would imagine that Keegan Michael Key was in the scene while writing. If I could picture him saying it, I knew it would work. I also kind of have a crush on Jordan Peele and his performance in Big Mouth. Maya Rudolph also just makes everything amazing. Her puberty demon on Big Mouth is flawless. She did an ad for 7th generation tampons that my son, my husband and myself were singing around the house for weeks. If I could even get anything close to her career, I would be happy. I’m also back in love with Rick and Morty. I don’t know if I have a crush on Justin Roiland, I just really love Rick (maybe even more than Morty). I don’t have a crush on Jerry, the dad, but I have a crush on Chris Parnell because he’s so good at being Jerry.



IFC: If you could go back in time and cast yourselves in any sitcom, which would it be and how would it change?

Carolyn: I’d go back in time and cast us in The Partridge Family.  We’d make an excellent family band. We’d have a laugh, break into song and wear ruffled blouses with velvet jackets.  And of course travel to all our gigs on a Mondrian bus. I feel really confident about this choice.

Meredith: Electric Mayhem from The Muppet Show. It wouldn’t change, they were simply perfect, except… maybe a few more vaginas in the band.

Binge the entire first and second seasons of Baroness von Sketch Show now on and the IFC app.

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