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A New Experience Home and Abroad

A New Experience Home and Abroad (photo)

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With all the emerging talent on display at this year’s Spirit Awards, it’s easy to get caught up in what’s new and next in terms of the films we’ll be seeing in the future, but what’s often overlooked is the surfeit of new places and experiences that has been on display in independent cinema over the course of the past year. Actors routinely take audiences into emotional terrain where they haven’t been before, but in 2010, it was often the surroundings that shared the spotlight.

In “Winter’s Bone,” director Debra Granik showed off a side of America that’s rarely seen onscreen with the poverty-stricken rural community that exists as its own insular world in the mountains of Missouri and Best First Feature nominee “Get Low” showed the majesty of Tennessee during the ’30s. “The Kids Are All Right” and “Greenberg” reveled in both sides of Los Angeles, demonstrating the way the sun can shine or burn, depending on which way its denizens fall on the thin line between success and failure while New York got an unusual closeup in films like Best First Screenplay nominee “The Exploding Girl,” where the cacophony of the city wreaked havoc on its main character, or Best First Feature nominee “Tiny Furniture,” in which Manhattan is a playground for a college grad who knows not what to do with her life.

This year’s Someone to Watch category may as well be called the “Somewhere to Watch” category since each of the three nominees take a camera to places where it’s rarely been before – into the underground of Iran for Hossein Keshavarz’s “Dog Sweat,” on the bumpy road from Florida to Nashville in Laurel Nakadate’s “The Wolf Knife” and the California desert through the eyes of two Japanese tourists in Mike Ott’s “Littlerock.”

However, nowhere is this the sensation of new and next felt more than in this year’s race for Best Documentary where two of the nominees are from distinctly different mediums than film and naturally bring perspectives that can safely be considered outside the box. For “Exit Through the Gift Shop,” renowned troublemaker and street artist Banksy put down the spray paint can and picked up a DV camera to turn the tables on a paparazzo-turned-graffiti artist named Mr. Brainwash who had been making his own documentary about the street art scene in Los Angeles. The result was one of the most audacious, not to mention harrowing, films of the year as it exposed audiences to the always elusive Banksy and a group of artists that uses urban landscapes as their canvas while the rest of us sleep at night.

Of more serious consequence, but equally innovative when taking a camera into a place it’s never been before, Tim Hetherington and Sebastian Junger’s “Restrepo” follows a group of U.S. soldiers during a year in Afghanistan, taking audiences closer to the day-to-day experience of war than perhaps had ever been experienced in film. Part of this had to do with the equipment, which naturally is smaller and more technically advanced than ever before, but much more had to do with the collected experience and skills of Hetherington’s as a war photographer and Junger as a veteran reporter to first get access to a military outpost that had been unprecedented and then know exactly how to document the action and emotion that was unfolding in front of them while being seemingly invisible.

Being invisible was also a key part of Ilisa Barbaash and Lucien Castaing-Taylor’s “Sweetgrass,” which uses no soundtrack or narration to tell the story of a group of Montana sheepherders on their last drive through the Beartooth Mountains in 2003. The film captures both a way of life that is dying and yet the vibrant environment still largely untouched by modern-day life, preserved for those of us in the cities and suburbs in a way so that we can visit without harming nature’s beauty.

The two other nominees in the Best Documentary category also capture beauty in unique ways, even if their actual settings may seem quite familiar. Jeff Malmberg’s “Marwencol” tells the story of a man who creates his own World War II-themed town populated by era-attired G.I. Joe figurines and Barbies after a brutal attack leaves him psychologically wounded in Kingston, New York, while Mark Landsman’s “Thunder Soul” chronicles the rise and reunion of Houston’s Kashmere Stage Band, a high school funk band that were better than most professionals during the ’70s and gather together once more in the present day to see if they can still jam. Both films, like many of this year’s Spirit Award nominees, show there are no limits to what’s new and next since they demonstrate how art can take us to a different world altogether.

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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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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….


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.


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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