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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.



Reminders that the ’90s were a thing

"The Place We Live" is available for a Jessie Spano-level binge on Comedy Crib.

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GIFs via Giphy

Unless you stopped paying attention to the world at large in 1989, you are of course aware that the ’90s are having their pop cultural second coming. Nobody is more acutely aware of this than Dara Katz and Betsy Kenney, two comedians who met doing improv comedy and have just made their Comedy Crib debut with the hilarious ’90s TV throwback series, The Place We Live.

IFC: How would you describe “The Place We Live” to a fancy network executive you just met in an elevator?

Dara: It’s everything you loved–or loved to hate—from Melrose Place and 90210 but condensed to five minutes, funny (on purpose) and totally absurd.

IFC: How would you describe “The Place We Live” to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

Betsy: “Hey Todd, why don’t you have a sip of water. Also, I think you’ll love The Place We Live because everyone has issues…just like you, Todd.”


IFC: When you were living through the ’90s, did you think it was television’s golden age or the pop culture apocalypse?

Betsy: I wasn’t sure I knew what it was, I just knew I loved it!

Dara: Same. Was just happy that my parents let me watch. But looking back, the ’90s honored The Teen. And for that, it’s the golden age of pop culture. 

IFC: Which ’90s shows did you mine for the series, and why?

Betsy: Melrose and 90210 for the most part. If you watch an episode of either of those shows you’ll see they’re a comedic gold mine. In one single episode, they cover serious crimes, drug problems, sex and working in a law firm and/or gallery, all while being young, hot and skinny.

Dara: And almost any series we were watching in the ’90s, Full House, Saved By the Bell, My So Called Life has very similar themes, archetypes and really stupid-intense drama. We took from a lot of places. 


IFC: How would you describe each of the show’s characters in terms of their ’90s TV stereotype?

Dara: Autumn (Sunita Mani) is the femme fatale. Robin (Dara Katz) is the book worm (because she wears glasses). Candace (Betsy Kenney) is Corey’s twin and gives great advice and has really great hair. Corey (Casey Jost) is the boy next door/popular guy. Candace and Corey’s parents decided to live in a car so the gang can live in their house. 
Lee (Jonathan Braylock) is the jock.

IFC: Why do you think the world is ready for this series?

Dara: Because everyone’s feeling major ’90s nostalgia right now, and this is that, on steroids while also being a totally new, silly thing.

Delight in the whole season of The Place We Live right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib. It’ll take you back in all the right ways.


New Nasty

Whips, Chains and Hand Sanitizer

Turn On The Full Season Of Neurotica At IFC's Comedy Crib

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Jenny Jaffe has a lot going on: She’s writing for Disney’s upcoming Big Hero 6: The Series, developing comedy projects with pals at Devastator Press, and she’s straddling the line between S&M and OCD as the creator and star of the sexyish new series Neurotica, which has just made its debut on IFC’s Comedy Crib. Jenny gave us some extremely intimate insight into what makes Neurotica (safely) sizzle…


IFC: How would you describe Neurotica to a fancy network executive you met in an elevator?

Jenny: Neurotica is about a plucky Dominatrix with OCD trying to save her small-town dungeon.

IFC: How would you describe Neurotica to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

Jenny: Neurotica is about a plucky Dominatrix with OCD trying to save her small-town dungeon. You’re great. We should get coffee sometime. I’m not just saying that. I know other people just say that sometimes but I really feel like we’re going to be friends, you know? Here, what’s your number, I’ll call you so you can have my number!

IFC: What’s your comedy origin story?

Jenny: Since I was a kid I’ve dealt with severe OCD and anxiety. Comedy has always been one of the ways I’ve dealt with that. I honestly just want to help make people feel happy for a few minutes at a time.

IFC: What was the genesis of Neurotica?

Jenny: I’m pretty sure it was a title-first situation. I was coming up with ideas to pitch to a production company a million years ago (this isn’t hyperbole; I am VERY old) and just wrote down “Neurotica”; then it just sort of appeared fully formed. “Neurotica? Oh it’s an over-the-top romantic comedy about a Dominatrix with OCD, of course.” And that just happened to hit the buttons of everything I’m fascinated by.


IFC: How would you describe Ivy?

Jenny: Ivy is everything I love in a comedy character – she’s tenacious, she’s confident, she’s sweet, she’s a big wonderful weirdo.

IFC: How would Ivy’s clientele describe her?

Jenny:  Open-minded, caring, excellent aim.

IFC: Why don’t more small towns have local dungeons?

Jenny: How do you know they don’t?

IFC: What are the pros and cons of joining a chain mega dungeon?

Jenny: You can use any of their locations but you’ll always forget you have a membership and in a year you’ll be like “jeez why won’t they let me just cancel?”

IFC: Mouths are gross! Why is that?

Jenny: If you had never seen a mouth before and I was like “it’s a wet flesh cave with sharp parts that lives in your face”, it would sound like Cronenberg-ian body horror. All body parts are horrifying. I’m kind of rooting for the singularity, I’d feel way better if I was just a consciousness in a cloud.

See the whole season of Neurotica right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib.


The ’90s Are Back

The '90s live again during IFC's weekend marathon.

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Photo Credit: Everett Digital, Columbia Pictures

We know what you’re thinking: “Why on Earth would anyone want to reanimate the decade that gave us Haddaway, Los Del Rio, and Smash Mouth, not to mention Crystal Pepsi?”


Thoughts like those are normal. After all, we tend to remember lasting psychological trauma more vividly than fleeting joy. But if you dig deep, you’ll rediscover that the ’90s gave us so much to fondly revisit. Consider the four pillars of true ’90s culture.

Boy Bands

We all pretended to hate them, but watch us come alive at a karaoke bar when “I Want It That Way” comes on. Arguably more influential than Brit Pop and Grunge put together, because hello – Justin Timberlake. He’s a legitimate cultural gem.

Man-Child Movies

Adam Sandler is just behind The Simpsons in terms of his influence on humor. Somehow his man-child schtick didn’t get old until the aughts, and his success in that arena ushered in a wave of other man-child movies from fellow ’90s comedians. RIP Chris Farley (and WTF Rob Schneider).



Teen Angst

In horror, dramas, comedies, and everything in between: Troubled teens! Getting into trouble! Who couldn’t relate to their First World problems, plaid flannels, and lose grasp of the internet?

Mainstream Nihilism

From the Coen Bros to Fincher to Tarantino, filmmakers on the verge of explosive popularity seemed interested in one thing: mind f*cking their audiences by putting characters in situations (and plot lines) beyond anyone’s control.

Feeling better about that walk down memory lane? Good. Enjoy the revival.


And revisit some important ’90s classics all this weekend during IFC’s ’90s Marathon. Check out the full schedule here.