Indies in the Park
With back-to-back screening dates this Sunday and Monday, Cinema East welcomes actor-filmmakers Sophia Takal and Lawrence Michael Levine with their respective films, Green and Gabi on the Roof in July.
On the surface, both films have similar setups (focusing on creative twenty-somethings), but the films go on markedly distinct journeys, one a thriller, the other a comedy. What these movies share, though, are stars who take turns writing, directing and producing.
Takal's directing debut, Green centers on literary couple Sebastian (Levine) and Genevieve (Kate Lyn Shiel) who venture into the countryside so Sebastian, a journalist, can write a book on sustainable farming. Once there, Genevieve - who has no real identity outside Sebastian - befriends Robin (Takal), a local working-class woman whose friendship sets her free. That is, of course, until Robin also strikes up a friendship with Sebastian and sets Genevieve's jealous imagination on its overactive course. Takal, who is engaged to Levine, explained in multiple interviews that the story was spawned by her own struggles with jealousy, an experience she soon realized was mirrored in many other women.
Nandan Rao photographed Green using long, distant shots in the woods that lend an eery quality and give breadth to Genevieve's experience of being pent up in her own mind. Cinema East producer Maggie Lea explained those nature-focused takes were what initially attracted her to the film, and that sticky, summery feeling will surely be echoed for audiences watching from the French Legation lawn.
That summery feeling takes a much lighter tone in Levine's Gabi on the Roof in July. Gabi takes place in Greenpoint, Brooklyn when 20-year-old Oberlin undergrad, Gabi (Takal), visits her older, now thirty-year-old painter brother, Sam (Levine), for the summer. As Sam juggles two girlfriends and the pressures to settle into adulthood, he is comparatively scandalized by Gabi's escapades as she traipses around his apartment naked (calling the habit 'art') and cuddles up to Sam's shady, dude-bro friend. As the stick-in-the-mud older brother, Sam's frustration with Gabi ostensibly stems from her selfishness, but it's quickly apparent through his interactions with girlfriend Madeline (Brooke Bloom) and art-dealer ex, Chelsea (Amy Seimetz), that Sam is as equally self-centered as his charming, insufferable sister, who's only acting out to get his attention.
Upon initial glance, Gabi on the Roof in July sounds like another one of those movies. You know, the kind with the whimsical girl-woman that's both impossible and irristible, and all the characters are young and broke yet somehow never have to go to work? Well, it is and yet isn't one of those movies. To read Levine's director's notes, it's clear his characters are unlikeable because he wants them to be. “My goal as a filmmaker was... to guide the audience into taking a sober look at the foibles of our age and to move forward with renewed awareness of our generation’s shortcomings.” The script contains a cutting humor that shows a more pointed portrait. Upon receiving the already pretentious introduction to Sam's friends as being "also an artist," Gabi's immediately interrupts, "Anti-artist." It's the sort of obnoxion that's as cutting as it is funny.
Taking cues from directors like Mike Leigh and John Cassavetes, who are known for rehearsal processes more similar to the theater, both Takal and Levine used a combination of improvising and rehearsal to develop (and, in Takal's case) restructure their scripts. The resulting performances aim for naturalism and ease without the rambling.
The festival circuit has certainly been taken with Takal and Levine's work. Gabi on the Roof in July won best narrative feature at Brooklyn International Film Festival in 2010, with Takal taking the Best Actress award. Green premiered in the Emerging Visions category at this year's South By Southwest Film Festival, where Takal took the Chicken and Egg Emergent Woman Director prize. The film later took the special jury award at IFF Boston, and Takal was named one of Filmmaker Magazine's 25 New Face of Independent Film this year.
Green screens on the French Legation lawn on Sunday, August 21st. Doors open at 7:30, and tickets are $3.
The filmmakers/actors will be present for both screenings and available for the Q&A afterwards.