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A Spirited Q & A With “Lbs.” Director Matthew Bonifacio

A Spirited Q & A With “Lbs.” Director Matthew Bonifacio (photo)

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As a way of celebrating this year’s nominees for the Spirit Awards in the weeks leading up to the ceremony, we reached out to as many as we could in an effort to better understand what went into their films, what they’ve gotten out of the experience, and where they’ve found their inspiration, both in regards to their work and other works of art that might’ve inspired them from the past year. Their answers will be published on a daily basis throughout February.

Underdog tales don’t come any more tailor-made for a happy ending than Matthew Bonifacio’s first feature that’s nominated for the John Cassavetes Award at this year’s Spirit Awards. In the case of “Lbs.,” this is as true behind the scenes as it is in the story about Neil, an overweight man (Carmine Famiglietti) who aims to curb his addiction to meatball hoagies and fried chicken by shacking up in a trailer park with his friend Sacco (Michael Aronov), who simultaneously attempts to wean himself off drugs. For the frizzy-haired Neil, the romance with food gives way to a previously unthinkable affair with a forthright local (Miriam Shor), a relationship that’s only superceded in its tenderness in real life by the one between Bonifacio and the film’s star and co-writer Famiglietti.

As Bonifacio explains below, the film was born out of the pair’s friendship and that warmth is felt in every frame of “Lbs.,” which clearly draws upon Famiglietti’s personal struggle with his weight as clips and photos from his past are interspersed throughout the early part of the film. And the line between reality and fiction blurs further when you consider that Famiglietti really does lose 100 pounds (and goes through three different hairstyles) over the course of the film, which was shot on a shoestring budget while it allowed for a shoot broken into four parts over the course of 27 months.

However, for all the miles Neil bicycles in the film to drop the weight, “Lbs.” as a film has had to go many more. Originally premiering at Sundance in 2004, Bonifacio has already completed two films since then — 2007’s “Amexicano” and the upcoming “Not for Nothing” — and endured a string of release dates that never came to be, first with a distributor that didn’t come through and then oddly enough, a partnership with a drug company that wanted to use Famiglietti as a spokesperson until their latest product didn’t pass government approval.

Ultimately, Bonifacio got the rights back to his film in 2009 and after a theatrical release in New York this past summer, he’s self-distributing the DVD through the “Lbs.” Web site, which should finally bring some closure to a production that’s been over a decade in the making and a smile to anyone’s face who listens to Neil’s final words in the film as he explains how he wants to fill the void of eating with “something real simple.” Clearly, nothing was intended to come easy for “Lbs.,” but that’s only made its success now sweeter.

Why did you want to make this film?

Primarily, I wanted to help out my longtime friend Carmine Famiglietti with his fight against food. I watched him physically change dramatically over a short period of time and this was a perfect opportunity to help him turn it around. Also, I started out as an actor and was heavily influenced in the mid ’90s with the Independent film scene and had been interested in getting into directing and working on the other side of the camera. It was a win-win.

What was the best piece of advice you received that applied to the making of this film?

I played baseball throughout most of my life and was told by a teammate in high school “If you’re not practicing, someone else is.” It was a Brooks Robinson quote and has always stuck with me. I approached pre-production with the intention of making “Lbs.” the best it could be and used my competitive nature to drive me through the tough production days.

I also received great advice years later from an investor for our second feature, “Amexicano.” He said, “Study the dailies”. It sounds funny but there’s so much truth to it. You think every filmmaker does that, but it’s easy to settle if the scene immediately comes out good. You have to keep on challenging yourself by exploring and combing through every single frame. If not, you could miss something magical.

What was the toughest thing to overcome, whether it applies to a particular scene or the film as a whole?

I had to learn to have patience and a thick skin with “Lbs.” It was shot over the course of 27 months in conjunction with Carmine’s incredible weight loss, raising money, and tightening the script. It’s easy to say, “We have enough in the can,” “Carmine, you lost enough weight,” “Let’s start submitting to film festivals.” But we didn’t and made the movie we wanted to make. Having that patience got “Lbs.” to Sundance in 2004 and in theaters in 2010. I learned there are no rules or conventional paths. Create your own path. It’s much more exciting.

What’s been the most memorable moment while you’ve traveled with the film, either at a festival or otherwise?

I’ve been blessed with many memorable moments during this journey. The whole Sundance experience was pure heaven and such a positive and life-changing experience that I will cherish forever. Another was when “Lbs.” had a special screening at Harvard Medical School. Here you have two guys from Brooklyn and Queens being looked upon with the utmost respect and fielding a slew of questions during a very exciting Q & A. Finally, last year when “Lbs.” was in release it opened in Washington DC, a young lady flew in with her mom from Kansas City to see “Lbs.” and meet us. She had started her own “Lbs.” forum on her blog called Uncovering Pamela. She is such a dedicated fan and religiously updates her blog when there’s any news on “Lbs.” I’ve even found myself going to her blog to find out updates! It’s all so flattering and a great reminder of the reason we made this film.

What’s your favorite thing about your film that’s been largely uncommented upon?

I think most people probably don’t realize the twists and turns a film like “Lbs.”, that has been 10 years in the making, goes through. If you heard of a similar film years ago, it was probably us. “Lbs.” was developed in the late ’90s when Carmine wrote the initial drafts. I had my first production meeting with him in January 2000. At the time, I responded to the material and was brought on as a co-writer. We developed the script for a year and had a few staged readings. He asked to me to direct.

Principal photography took place between 2001-2003 (“Lbs.” is both a pre- and post- 9/11 film). We world-premiered at Sundance in 2004, where we turned down a cable deal because we wanted a theatrical release. “Lbs.” was pick-up by a specialty distributor and was never released, leading to a legal battle in 2009. We won back the rights with the help of executive producer Marc Victor and self-released “Lbs.” theatrically in 2010, starting out in four cities, which grew to eight. Last summer, Carmine Martignetti, a Massachusetts businessman, fell in love with the film and shared it with his brothers. They funded the DVD release, and here we are in 2011…it’s been a wild ride!

What’s been the most gratifying thing to come out of this film for you personally?

Hearing the public speak. There’s nothing more exciting and satisfying than talking to audience members at Q & As. We’ve received e-mails from all over the world asking “How can I see ‘Lbs.’?” The film’s very popular in Sweden, and yet we never played there! What?! I just feel so blessed there are people out there who are interested in something I was a part of. It never gets old.

What’s been your favorite film, book or album from the past year?

This year I really enjoyed “The Town” — Ben Affleck was terrific in front and behind the camera, “Cyrus” — I love anything the Duplass brothers make, “Greenberg” — I’ll never miss a Noah Baumbach film, “The Kids Are Alright” — excellent performances; Mia Wasikowska and Julianne Moore should’ve received Oscar nominations, and “I’m Here,” the short directed by Spike Jonze, which was probably my favorite film of the year! Fave book? There’s two. “Citrus County” by John Brandon and the “2011 Not For Tourists Guide to Los Angeles.”

“Lbs.” is now available on DVD. The Spirit Awards will air on IFC on February 26th.

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Hard Out

Comedy From The Closet

Janice and Jeffrey Available Now On IFC's Comedy Crib

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She’s been referred to as “the love child of Amy Sedaris and Tracy Ullman,” and he’s a self-described “Italian who knows how to cook a great spaghetti alla carbonara.” They’re Mollie Merkel and Matteo Lane, prolific indie comedians who blended their robust creative juices to bring us the new Comedy Crib series Janice and Jeffrey. Mollie and Matteo took time to answer our probing questions about their series and themselves. Here’s a taste.

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

Mollie & Matteo: Janice and Jeffrey is about a married couple experiencing intimacy issues but who don’t have a clue it’s because they are gay. Their oblivion makes them even more endearing.  Their total lack of awareness provides for a buffet of comedy.

IFC: What’s your origin story? How did you two people meet and how long have you been working together?

Mollie: We met at a dive bar in Wrigley Field Chicago. It was a show called Entertaining Julie… It was a cool variety scene with lots of talented people. I was doing Janice one night and Matteo was doing an impression of Liza Minnelli. We sort of just fell in love with each other’s… ACT! Matteo made the first move and told me how much he loved Janice and I drove home feeling like I just met someone really special.

IFC: How would Janice describe Jeffrey?

Mollie: “He can paint, cook homemade Bolognese, and sing Opera. Not to mention he has a great body. He makes me feel empowered and free. He doesn’t suffocate me with attention so our love has room to breath.”

IFC: How would Jeffrey describe Janice?

Matteo: “Like a Ford. Built to last.”

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

Mollie & Matteo: Our current political world is mirroring and reflecting this belief that homosexuality is wrong. So what better time for satire. Everyone is so pro gay and equal rights, which is of course what we want, too. But no one is looking at middle America and people actually in the closet. No one is saying, hey this is really painful and tragic, and sitting with that. Having compassion but providing the desperate relief of laughter…This seemed like the healthiest, best way to “fight” the gay rights “fight”.

IFC: Hummus is hilarious. Why is it so funny?

Mollie: It just seems like something people take really seriously, which is funny to me. I started to see it in a lot of lesbians’ refrigerators at a time. It’s like observing a lesbian in a comfortable shoe. It’s a language we speak. Pass the Hummus. Turn on the Indigo Girls would ya?

See the whole season of Janice and Jeffrey right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib.

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Die Hard Dads

Inspiration For Die Hard Dads

Die Hard is on IFC all Father's Day Long

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Photo Credit: Everett Collection, GIPHY

Yippee ki-yay, everybody! It’s time to celebrate the those most literal of mother-effers: dads!

And just in case the title of this post left anything to the imagination, IFC is giving dads balls-to-the-wall ’80s treatment with a glorious marathon of action trailblazer Die Hard.

There are so many things we could say about Die Hard. We could talk about how it was comedian Bruce Willis’s first foray into action flicks, or Alan Rickman’s big screen debut. But dads don’t give a sh!t about that stuff.

No, dads just want to fantasize that they could be deathproof quip factory John McClane in their own mundane lives. So while you celebrate the fathers in your life, consider how John McClane would respond to these traditional “dad” moments…

Wedding Toasts

Dads always struggle to find the right words of welcome to extend to new family. John McClane, on the other hand, is the master of inclusivity.
Die Hard wedding

Using Public Restrooms

While nine out of ten dads would rather die than use a disgusting public bathroom, McClane isn’t bothered one bit. So long as he can fit a bloody foot in the sink, he’s G2G.
Die Hard restroom

Awkward Dancing

Because every dad needs a signature move.
Die Hard dance

Writing Thank You Notes

It can be hard for dads to express gratitude. Not only can McClane articulate his thanks, he makes it feel personal.
Die Hard thank you

Valentine’s Day

How would John McClane say “I heart you” in a way that ain’t cliche? The image speaks for itself.
Die Hard valentines

Shopping

The only thing most dads hate more than shopping is fielding eleventh-hour phone calls with additional items for the list. But does McClane throw a typical man-tantrum? Nope. He finds the words to express his feelings like a goddam adult.
Die Hard thank you

Last Minute Errands

John McClane knows when a fight isn’t worth fighting.
Die Hard errands

Sneaking Out Of The Office Early

What is this, high school? Make a real exit, dads.
Die Hard office

Think you or your dad could stand to be more like Bruce? Role model fodder abounds in the Die Hard marathon all Father’s Day long on IFC.

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Founding Farters

Know Your Nerd History

Revenge of the Nerds is on IFC.

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Photo Credit: Everett Collection, GIFs via Giphy

That we live in the heyday of nerds is no hot secret. Scientists are celebrities, musicians are robots and late night hosts can recite every word of the Silmarillion. It’s too easy to think that it’s always been this way. But the truth is we owe much to our nerd forebearers who toiled through the jock-filled ’80s so that we might take over the world.

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Our humble beginnings are perhaps best captured in iconic ’80s romp Revenge of the Nerds. Like the founding fathers of our Country, the titular nerds rose above their circumstances to culturally pave the way for every Colbert and deGrasse Tyson that we know and love today.

To make sure you’re in the know about our very important cultural roots, here’s a quick download of the vengeful nerds without whom our shameful stereotypes might never have evolved.

Lewis Skolnick

The George Washington of nerds whose unflappable optimism – even in the face of humiliating self-awareness – basically gave birth to the Geek Pride movement.

Gilbert Lowe

OK, this guy is wet blanket, but an important wet blanket. Think Aaron Burr to Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Hamilton. His glass-mostly-empty attitude is a galvanizing force for Lewis. Who knows if Lewis could have kept up his optimism without Lowe’s Debbie-Downer outlook?

Arnold Poindexter

A music nerd who, after a soft start (inside joke, you’ll get it later), came out of his shell and let his passion lead instead of his anxiety. If you played an instrument (specifically, electric violin), and you were a nerd, this was your patron saint.

Booger

A sex-loving, blunt-smoking, nose-picking guitar hero. If you don’t think he sounds like a classic nerd, you’re absolutely right. And that’s the whole point. Along with Lamar, he simultaneously expanded the definition of nerd and gave pre-existing nerds a twisted sort of cred by association.

Lamar Latrell

Black, gay, and a crazy good breakdancer. In other words, a total groundbreaker. He proved to the world that nerds don’t have a single mold, but are simply outcasts waiting for their moment.

Ogre

Exceedingly stupid, this dumbass was monumental because he (in a sequel) leaves the jocks to become a nerd. Totally unheard of back then. Now all jocks are basically nerds.

Well, there they are. Never forget that we stand on their shoulders.

Revenge of the Nerds is on IFC all month long.

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