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Peter Weir Takes the Long “Way Back”

Peter Weir Takes the Long “Way Back” (photo)

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From “Picnic at Hanging Rock” to “The Truman Show” and “Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World,” Peter Weir’s filmography is rife with tales of men engaging with imposing environments, a fixation that continues with his newest film “The Way Back,” the real-life saga of three men who, in 1940, escaped a Russian gulag and traveled by foot to India – a trek spanning thousands of miles across five countries. Weir’s latest may feature big-name stars Colin Farrell and Ed Harris in an epic adventure, but in style, tone and content, it’s an anti-blockbuster of the first order. Shot by longtime Weir collaborator Russell Boyd with a combination of landscape majesty and close-up intimacy, it’s a narratively straightforward portrait of determination, survival and absolution that the writer/director layers with subtle thematic and emotional depth. On the eve of last week’s 11-film Lincoln Center career retrospective, Weir spoke about the veracity of “The Way Back”‘s source material, the “gamble” of making films for adults, and how being a director is sometimes like being a school headmaster.

Why was there a seven-year gap between “Master & Commander” and “The Way Back”? Was it difficult finding a new project, or putting this particular one together?

No, it was really just a series of projects – three in total – that, frustratingly, just didn’t come together for different reasons. I think they were films that I wasn’t meant to make. That’s my rationalization on it. But I did have to draw on deep reserves of patience, because I thought “God, there can’t be another one that goes south.” I think it was 2007 that I was sent the book [Slavomir Rawicz’s “The Long Walk: The True Story of a Trek to Freedom”] that became the inspiration for this film, and that was the one to make.

01172011_WayBack2.jpgWhat was it about the book that first sparked your interest?

Generally speaking, I think it’s profoundly an emotional experience. It’s more than intellectual and, therefore, not necessarily immediate. Over the days that I’d read it, it would come back to me and, in some ways, I would find it quite touching. I would think, “What is it about human nature, about the human spirit, that can endure so much, and yet keep going? What is it to survive?” I’d been touched by the book and thought that if I can bottle that lightning and pass it on to the audience, then they’ll feel what I felt.

I’ve read reports that Rawicz may not have actually been on the walk, but instead may have heard the story and claimed it as his own.

Yes, it’s that maybe he wasn’t on the walk. It’s documented that he was in a gulag, [as] a Polish officer who had – along with the majority of the Polish military in the Soviet zone in Poland – been sent in 1939 to the prisons. We know that they murdered a lot of them. But was he on the walk? I said to the producers that I couldn’t do the film unless I knew the walk occurred [and] that we can work around [Rawicz] and fictionalize it, but I’ve got to know there was a walk – that was what moved me. I didn’t particularly want to make the life story of the author. And that’s what we found. We got the evidence and I was happy, and so I could retitle it, and even reintroduce some other characters, and redraw those characters, all based on either interviews with survivors or from true accounts. I set myself that standard, so I would have a reality that I was dealing with.

You have a reputation for being very interested in historical details. Where did you start, in terms of research, after reading the book?

In this case, I think there were three key steps. One was to go and meet Cyril Delafosse-Guiramand, a young French guy in his late 30s, [who] walked this walk inspired by the book some time after 2000. He started off in Siberia and he walked all the way to India. So I had to meet Cyril. He was up in Laos, and I flew to meet him, and had him tell me what it was like — in the Gobi, in the forests north of Siberia. So he became vital. A lot of what he said I put in the script, then he became a member of the crew, and he helped the actors.

Secondly, I went to the locations – particularly to Mongolia, China and Siberia. And thirdly, I met survivors in Moscow (Russians obviously), and then in London, I met with Polish gentlemen who had survived and, in one case, one who had escaped. So those where the three key areas. And then, lots of reading. I’ve got quite a library.

01172011_WayBack11.jpgWas there ever a thought about not shooting on location?

Generally, I believe in faking as much as you can, so that your actors are as comfortable as possible to do what they’re trained to do. In other words, it doesn’t make the performance better just because you go and climb a mountain. You can put up a fake mountain in the studio and make them work more on their performance. In this case, I did think it was important to go to the real places, or facsimiles of them — four thousand miles, and through all the seasons, from blizzards in Siberia to the scorching desert to the Tibetan plateaus on to India. So I firstly cast those parts, if I can call the landscapes actors. I couldn’t shoot in Siberia, so we shot in the forests of Bulgaria. I couldn’t shoot in the Gobi desert for various reasons, so we used the Sahara. We shot in India, at Darjeeling.

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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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