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The Doc Days of Summer: “45365”

The Doc Days of Summer: “45365” (photo)

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More so than any other summer in recent memory, this year great documentaries are flooding through the marketplace at a rapid clip, whether on TV (HBO will host Sundance faves “Smash His Camera,” “Gasland” and “A Small Act” in the weeks ahead), online (the always reliable SnagFilms.com) or in theaters (“Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work,” AJ Schnack’s “Convention” and Oliver Stone’s “South of the Border” before the end of June). With that in mind, we’d like to take the chance to shine a light on some of the best nonfiction films being released over the next month in this summer weekly column.

Certainly, that’s true of “45365,” the feature debut from Bill and Turner Ross, which took a circuitous route around the festival circuit (where it earned prizes at SXSW and Full Frame) before premiering online last summer on Hulu for a week and eventually winning this year’s Truer Than Fiction Award at the Spirit Awards. (As it happens, the Ross brothers were recently dubbed IFC Icons to boot.)

Still, it should be best enjoyed on the big screen at the Anthology Film Archives, where it begins a one-week run in New York where the Ross’ elegant, elliptical portrait of their hometown of Sidney, Ohio will be presented in its full glory.

06182010_45365-3.jpgOne could call the film a slice of life from a small town, but in reality, it’s many slices — larger in scope when following the ups and downs of the Sidney High School Yellow Jacket football team and the door-to-door campaigning of local judge Donald Luce, and filled in by the small pleasures of eavesdropping on a discussion about the joys of QVC at a retirement home and the ribbon-cutting of a new bridge.

As Turner Ross says, “The type of filmmaking that we’re trying to do is not getting out there and telling people how to feel about what we’ve done.” Indeed, there’s nothing forced about their approach, which takes hundreds of seemingly unrelated moments and weaves them together, seamlessly blending a scene of a camera rolling by the streets of Sidney as harried mothers and fathers accompany their children on Halloween with the claustrophobic bickering of the Dwyer family, a mother and son who it could be said have “trust issues.”

After roughly seven years away from the Midwest, the Ross brothers returned to Sidney for nine months in 2007 to capture all of this and more, trading on previous relationships and making new ones.

“I’m always surprised by what people are willing to share, but really those [more intimate] moments are just a result of friendships that we’ve made,” said Bill Ross. “The end result, which is the film, is good and that’s fine and that’s why we’re there, but really what we get most out of what we do is the relationships and the experiences and the stories that we get to tell.”

But it didn’t come easy. Turner Ross spent over a year in the editing room finding the right order and tone for the film and used the first six months after filming “just to get a grasp on it.”

06182010_45365-4.jpg“Being in a room by yourself for so long, the footage starts to talk to you,” said Turner Ross. “You look at one scene and it says, ‘I need to be in there’ and then you look at another, which you thought in the beginning should be in there, but it’ll say ‘you’re an idiot, why would you ever even consider putting this in a film?'”

They had a lot of time to think about it; the Ross brothers had been considering making something that would capture where they grew up since high school, but were unsure what form it would take until they spent time in Los Angeles working production jobs on other people’s pictures and decided to strike up a feature on their own.

“We made a film and we made it in the way that we wanted to make it,” said Turner Ross. “It isn’t supposed to be some sort of thesis statement on small-town America or the plight of the Midwestern small town. It’s simply a film about moments and time spent with people.”

Expect them continue to do the same with their immediate filmmaking future. Though IndieWIRE already tipped the Ross brothers’ next project as the similarly unusually titled “Tchoupitoulas” — another nine-month sojourn, this time to New Orleans, viewing the city through the eyes of three brothers — they’re already working on a follow-up.

“We kind of forgot to cut [“Tchoupitoulas”],” said Turner Ross, who added, “We’ve been here shooting in a small town in South Texas for a couple months now.”

When asked what it might be about, Ross replied, “We’ll tell you when we know.” If “45365” is any indication, the wait to find out will be worth it.

Take a look at some footage from the upcoming “Tchoupitoulas” below:

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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…

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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.

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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).

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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.

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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.

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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.

Jenn: I LOVE ISSA RAE!

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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 IFC.com and the IFC app.

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G.I. Jeez

Stomach Bugs and Prom Dates

E.Coli High is in your gut and on IFC's Comedy Crib.

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Brothers-in-law Kevin Barker and Ben Miller have just made the mother of all Comedy Crib series, in the sense that their Comedy Crib series is a big deal and features a hot mom. Animated, funny, and full of horrible bacteria, the series juxtaposes timeless teen dilemmas and gut-busting GI infections to create a bite-sized narrative that’s both sketchy and captivating. The two sat down, possibly in the same house, to answer some questions for us about the series. Let’s dig in….

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IFC: How would you describe E.Coli High to a fancy network executive you just met in an elevator?

BEN: Hi ummm uhh hi ok well its like umm (gets really nervous and blows it)…

KB: It’s like the Super Bowl meets the Oscars.

IFC: How would you describe E.Coli High to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

BEN: Oh wow, she’s really cute isn’t she? I’d definitely blow that too.

KB: It’s a cartoon that is happening inside your stomach RIGHT NOW, that’s why you feel like you need to throw up.

IFC: What was the genesis of E.Coli High?

KB: I had the idea for years, and when Ben (my brother-in-law, who is a special needs teacher in Philly) began drawing hilarious comics, I recruited him to design characters, animate the series, and do some writing. I’m glad I did, because Ben rules!

BEN: Kevin told me about it in a park and I was like yeah that’s a pretty good idea, but I was just being nice. I thought it was dumb at the time.

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IFC: What makes going to proms and dating moms such timeless and oddly-relatable subject matter?

BEN: Since the dawn of time everyone has had at least one friend with a hot mom. It is physically impossible to not at least make a comment about that hot mom.

KB: Who among us hasn’t dated their friend’s mom and levitated tables at a prom?

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

BEN: There’s a lot of content now. I don’t think anyone will even notice, but it’d be cool if they did.

KB: A show about talking food poisoning bacteria is basically the same as just watching the news these days TBH.

Watch E.Coli High below and discover more NYTVF selections from years past on IFC’s Comedy Crib.

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