Online correspondence with producer/director/writer/cinematographer Michael Williams of Mississippi-based Shendopen Films since reviewing his "Others" like 2017 suspense horror film "The Atoning" provided a strong sense that this 30 year-old talent represented the best qualities of independent filmmakers and that he was living a well-deserved happy life. It was equally clear that Mrs. Williams raised the boy right.
Williams subsequently sharing his (also reviewed) 2014 post-apocalyptic dust bowl drama "Ozland" further cemented our friendship. The central "Of Mice and Men" relationship and the themes of looking for a better place in a dystopian society and of ascension prompted good relatively deep dialogue. Lighter correspondence revealed that his talented "nephew" Mick played Toto in the film.
A terrific telephone conversation with Williams earlier this week confirmed that he is one of the good ones. His offering exclusive photos for this article was the icing on the cake.
A Portrait of the Artist As a Young Man
The quality in both senses of that term of "Atoning" and "Ozland" makes it clear that the filmmaking skill of Williams comes from within; his cinematography on "Ozland" alone creates intense excitement regarding a possible Blu-ray release of that film.
Williams shared that his parents and his teachers at Oak Hill Academy facilitated (rather than encouraged) his interest in film. He provided the general example of receiving permission to prepare video projects, rather than assigned written reports. A specific example was his group making a film instead of writing about "The Red Badge of Courage."
Williams added that Oak Hill excused him from fulfilling graduation duties that conflicted with a film festival. This festival subsequently benefiting his career reinforced that value of that accommodation.
Parental support came in the form of being happy so long as Williams got a college degree in "something;" his earning the Top Film Student Award for 2009 from the University of Southern Mississippi is one of many indications that letting him do his own thing paid off.
Flattery Through Awesome Imitation
The aforementioned similarities between "Atoning" and "The Others" and the common elements between "Ozland" and both its stated source material and the Steinbeck story "Of Mice and Men" opened the door to discussing whether Williams watched "Oz" and "Others" with thoughts of how he would have made those films.
Williams responded that he had forgotten about "Others" until he was 1/2 through filming "Atoning." He added that he "was more inspired by 'Beetlejuice;' I have loved it since I was five years-old." He also stated that he has always loved "Oz." The appeal of "Beetlejuice" related to depicting the life of the haunter, rather than that of the haunted.
On a more general note, Williams stated that he based the well-filmed highly atmospheric style of "Atoning" on "Insidious." The exclusive images below from the filming of "Atoning" nicely illustrate that style.
The "scoop" of the interview came when Williams stated that an episode of the television series "Ancient Aliens" inspired "Ozland." The theme of that offering was that aliens coming to earth may assume that any novel that they discover is a true story. Williams stated as well that "in the creation of 'Ozland,' I tried to stay away from the movie." He did state that the flying monkeys from the Disney film "Oz the Great and Powerful" inspired (successfully) making an even scarier monkey for his movie.
Being an Out Religious Southern Man
An enviable relationship with freshly graduated commercial interior design student Cody Moore, an equally strong bond with his family, and being an active church goer all contribute to Williams being the good guy that comes across in his films. It seemed just as clear that the relationship with Moore provided the incentive to risk his closeness with his relatives and his church by coming out.
Williams shared that a prior relationship prompted coming out to a few close friends, one of whom subsequently rejected him. He added that he and Moore had dated for 10 months before Williams came out to his family (who already had a good sense of the importance of Moore) and his community-at-large.
The strong support of the community for "Ozland" and "Atoning" compounded the fear of Williams that these people who meant so much to him would reject him for being gay. His positive simple statement regarding all the people in his life was that "I realized that no one really cares, with a few exceptions."
Further hearing that Williams "can be out in public as a filmmaker [in Mississippi] and as a church member" was very nice. The fact that Williams scheduled our interview to not conflict with attending church and having lunch with his family during the week perfectly illustrated this.
An amusing aspect of this related to discussing that Garry Marshall determined that his marriage benefited from his staying at a hotel whenever he made a film, even if he was shooting in Los Angeles. Williams lightheartedly responded that Moore did not like the manifestations of the stress that "Movie Mike" experiences during a shoot. Not probing any further seemed best.
"Ozland" As Gay Allegory
Although emphasizing that he purposefully makes films with general themes and does not center them around gay characters. Williams shared that "Ozland" reflected some of his personal thoughts at the time of making that film. He noted that the big-brother/protector character Emri discussed whether he ever would find someone to love.
This led to Williams politely stating that he was "very adamant that these are not homosexual characters" and then stating that "I hate society not allowing love without a perception of sexuality." In this case, the love between Emri and his naive fellow drifter Leif was of the brotherly variety.
Williams added that another "Ozland" theme was that there always was common ground.
Although not discussed, the perception that Emri and Leif were gay extended beyond naughty thoughts regarding two good-looking young guys essentially isolated on a desert island. Many gay men fantasize about a handsome Mr. Right who either does not ridicule us for fearing witches and flying monkeys and cares enough to get furious when we are life-threatening stupid or who still is so innocent that thoughts of these creatures create terror. This particularly comes through in a scene in which Emri does a hilarious imitation of the tin man out of love for Leif.
Working With 'Innocents'
The performance of child actor Cannon Bosarge being a highlight of "Atoning" and 20-something Zack Ratkovich doing a superb job as Leif in "Ozland" prompted asking Williams about his secret for getting good performances out of "innocents." It turns out that it comes down to a talent for casting.
Williams quickly replied that he could not take credit for Bosarge; he noted that he first cast that tween thespian in a short film in 2012 or 2013 and had him in mind when writing the role of Sam in "Atoning." Williams emphasized that he still required that Bosarge audition for the role of Sam.
Specific praise included statements such as that Williams "can talk to Cannon like an adult" and noting that Bosarge is "on point more than some adult actors." Cuteness entered the picture when Williams commented that he would see Bosarge be focused while acting but revert to being a kid by doing things such as playing a bottle flipping game in the corner during a break.
The behind-the-scenes photo below relates to an adorable scene in which a gleeful Sam makes pancakes, oblivious to his trashing the kitchen and ending up with inedible results.
Regarding Ratkovich, Williams shared that that actor won him over by reading a monologue about the Wicked Witch in a manner that convinced Williams that Ratkovich believed in the witch. Williams also stated that the preparation of Ratkovich included studying YouTube videos of the reactions of 8-to-12 year-old kids at birthday parties.
One can only hope that Williams gets inspired to make a "Freaky Friday" body-switching film that casts Ratkovich and Bosarge as the (young) father-and-son.
Well-earned admiration for Williams prompted asking about plans for releasing a collection of his short films; he responded that he considered releasing those movies as DVD extras on apt feature films. The provided example was including his 25-minute 2013 super-hero "Kane" with a full-length film from that genre if he ever made one.
Williams reported that a few scripts that he had written were not ready to produce. The better news was that a film titled "Antler" that Williams described as an "E.T." style thriller was progressing.
Williams further expressed interest in making more music videos. The following YouTube video of his very recent work (featuring Bosarge as a Popcorn Kid) in this area provides proof of the good instincts of Williams regarding this genre
A more immediate project makes excellent use of the cinematography skills of Williams; he is fresh off working under BombCyclone conditions as a crew member of "Driven" by Emri portrayor Glenn Payne. This dark psychological drama hopefully will see the light of day this summer.
Good News and Bad News
The good news regarding the prolific-by-30 career of Williams is that we can look forward to several more decades of him making quality films in a kind-and-gentle manner. The bad news is that well-deserved success MAY result in commerce playing a larger role than art in his film. One can only hope that taking the boy out of Mississippi does not take the Mississippi out of the boy.
'In Her Name' DVD: Compelling Ripped From Headlines Docudrama on Case of Rape-Murder of 14 Year-Old Girl
Icarus Films awesomely blurs the line between its history distributing "innovative and provocative" documentaries and its current mission of releasing DVDs (including documentaries) of "films from independent producers worldwide" with the January 16, 2018 release of the 2016 docudrama "In Her Name" (nee "Kalinka").
The "docu" part comes from basing the film on the real-life 30-year campaign of accountant Andre Bamberski (Daniel Auteuil) to have the French legal system hold Dr. Dieter Krombach responsible for the rape and murder of the then 14-year old daughter of Bamberski.
The following YouTube clip of a trailer for "Name" looks like a promo. for a major Hollywood thriller because the real events are straight out of that genre. They also show that there is not always a difference between fact and fiction.
The trifecta of globally related elements make this one very relevant to every viewer. The sexual violation and related killing of a young teen girl sadly is relatively common. The associated elements of the rapist-killer being both a stepfather and someone with whom Andre spouse Dany had an affair also is not unheard of. The final aspect of this is Andre never giving up his cause despite all that it costs him. In other words, most of these actual events are not unique either to this case or to the countries in which they occur.
The film starting near the end of the story with the modern-day arrest of Andre for taking the law into his own hands is an example of a pet peeve of film critic Leonard Maltin; Maltin is critical of what he thinks is virtually every film made during the past few years starting with a dramatic scene and quickly cutting to another scene with an inter-title along the lines of "two weeks ago."
In the case of "Name," the action shifts from 2012 to 1974. Writer-director Vincent Garenq legitimately does so to strike the proper balance between exposition and quickly grabbing the audience. This relates to providing folks who do not know this story information about how the relationship between Dieter and Dany leads to the rape-murder.
The flashback brings us to 1974 Morocco where the young daughter of Dieter and her classmate Kalinka Bamberski are friends. Dieter soon seduces Dany into including benefits in their friendship, and she subsequently confesses that affair. That adultery prompts the Bamberskis to move back to France. A creepy scene as they are preparing to leave Morocco provides the first sense that the evil side of Dieter extends beyond seducing a married woman.
The affair (and the deception) continuing leads to the Bamberskis divorcing. The circumstances of the events that trigger the 30-year quest of Andre are shocking and sadly relatable. He knows that Kalinka and her brother are in Germany with their mother and now step-father Dieter. He does not expect to get a telephone call telling him that Kalinka is dead.
This is akin to a relative either suddenly getting sick or going into the hospital and then dying either during the proceeding or in the period following that stay. The story almost always either is that the doctors do not know what occurred or that they do know but they are not negligent.
Andre learns on arriving in Germany that the cause of death is unknown; he is told that Kalinka is discovered the morning after an uneventful night and that Dieter is asserting to have given her injections and taken other measures to save her.
Andre pushing hard to get the autopsy report both provides more information regarding the condition of Kalinka at the time of her death and indications that that exam is incomplete. The strong implication is that the medical examiner is protecting one of his own.
This leads to 30 years of Andre seeking to hold Dieter responsible only to always have defeat snatched from the jaws of victory; this includes obtaining a favorable judgment from a French court only to have it not be enforced and a German court proceeding regarding a teenage girl accusing Dieter of a similar form of rape as Kalinka only resulting in jail time through the relentless efforts of Andre.
These efforts and Andre constantly petitioning the court system and government officials for relief deplete both his financial resources and his personal relationships. This puts him in good company with countless real, reel, real-reel crusaders who continue pursuing a just and righteous cause long after 99 percent of us would have abandoned it to preserve our assets, our connections with the important people in our lives, and our sanity.
Andre hiring thugs to grab Dieter and essentially drop him at the door of the police station leads to the events from the opening minutes of "Name." We then see Andre as a guest of the state and facing several years of incarceration for doing what seems to be the job of the legal system.
Both modern filmmaking and the common flaws of legal systems around the world make it equally likely to those who do not know the actual events that inspire the movie that Andre will be a martyr, that Dieter will be jailed for his crimes, or that there will be some combination of the two. You need to watch to find out but are sure to feel emotion regardless of the conclusion,
Anyone with questions or comments regarding "Name" is strongly encouraged either toemail me or to connect on Twitter via @tvdvdguy.
Time Life releasing the 1968-69 second season of the classic comedy series "Rowan & Martin's Laugh-In" on January 9, 2018 is the latest in the long (and rapidly growing) additions to the Time Life catalog that remind us of the awesomeness of comedy-oriented variety series of the era. Time Life releasing "Laugh In" S3 on March 6, 2018 provides even more reason for a sexy mod party.
The uniqueness of "Laugh In" extends beyond presenting its material as rapid-fire jokes that straddle the line between vaudeville and the more racy content of burlesque. A prime example of this is having the worth their weight in solid gold dancers Goldie Hawn and Judy Carne gyrate in bikinis with apt slogans related to the theme of the week body painted all over them.
A more blatant example of the "naughty" aspects of "Laugh In" is having future "The Partridge Family" star Dave Madden explain during his inaugural appearance in the S2 season premiere that he will toss confetti in the air anytime that he has an impure thought in any appearance. Suffice it to say that the real-life cleaning crew for the show does a great deal of sweeping.
Other raciness comes in the form of much of the clever PG banter between hosts Dan Rowan and Dick Martin; a typical exchange has straight man Rowan make an innocent comment such as commenting that he admires Martin for being progressive by hiring a woman plumber and Martin replying that she does a good job cleaning his pipes.
The notable aspects of the S2 season premiere extend beyond Madden joining the cast. Then-presidential candidate Richard Nixon makes his well-known appearance in that episode. This demonstration of a sense of humor both is credited with helping Nixon win that election and is notable for coming roughly 25 years before what pundits consider the historic event of then-presidential candidate Bill Clinton playing his saxophone on "The Arsenio Hall Show" to enhance his populist image.
This episode additionally introduces the weekly "Fickle Finger of Fate" honor that Rowan and Martin award for absurd stupidity and/or waste. Designing a trophy that passes muster with the network censors does not diminish the impact of honoring the recipient with this distinction.
Politics also enters the picture via early versions of a news crawl that literally send a message; the first S2 one informing presidential candidate George Wallace that his sheets are ready for pick up shows that "Laugh In" barely holds its punches in this regard.
A more kind-and-gentle ongoing bit has cast members doing the classic schtick of joking about the names that celebrities would have if they married; a hypothetical example is Doris Day becoming Doris Day Jobs if she marries Steve Jobs.
Speaking of celebrities, "Laugh In" apparently attracts more stars than there are in the heavens. "Get Smart" star Barbara Feldon is an obvious guest for the first S2 outing. Co-guest Jack Lemmon is a less obvious participant but is equally awesome. Film royalty Greer Garson and Otto Preminger showing up and fully embracing the spirit of the series a couple of weeks later is more surprising.
We also get Eve Arden indirectly insulting her sitcom of that era "The Mothers-In-Law" and the sons of John Wayne separately showing up regarding a bit centered around trying to get their father to appear again after being an S1 guest.
The numerous other A-listers (including several national treasures and "it" stars) reflects the same sense of the coolness of guesting on "Laugh In" that is associated with being on "Saturday Night Live" or "The Simpsons" in the early seasons of those series.
In addition to outdoing SNL in caliber and quantity of celebrities, "Laugh In" outshines the "Weekend Edition" feature of that son of that classic. The "Laugh In" news of the past, the present, and the future segment is largely self-explanatory. The aforementioned predictions focus on the far-off year of 1988.
The spectacularness of "Laugh In" continues with the catch-phrases and characters that have never fully left the public consciousness and have found new life in these DVD releases. The aforementioned "sock it to me" is an eternal classic; watching the DVDs has triggered memories of the equally hilarious "look that up in your Funk and Wagnalls," and the "very interesting" catchphrase of the German solider character of Arte Johnson. The awesome thing is that these references barely scratch the surface regarding the number of memorable characters.
It is equally nice that we only need to wait two months to get the S3 episodes in which then-new cast member Lily Tomlin introduces the world to Ernestine the "ringy dingy" operator and adorable little girl Edith Ann.
The bigger picture is an element of "Laugh In" that shows how it vastly outdoes all modern shows; in addition to lacking any filler, this series literally has the cast and guests pop in to keep the hilarity going until the final second of the closing credits.
Time Life doing this series proud extends beyond the high-quality rermastering of the episodes and including a bookket with detailed episode synopses. The special features are three 20-minute interviews with Dick Martin, series announcer Gary Owens, and cast member Ruth Buzzi.
Highlights of the Martin interview include his sharing how he and Rowan team up and how that partnership leads to small-screen gold; Owens similarly discusses how his fooling around leads to "Laugh In" having an announcer and the homage that that personality offers. Buzzi focuses on how her pre "Laugh In" career influences her work on that show and how she befriends a real-life inspiration for a character on the series.
Lithuanian Filmmaker Romas Zabarauskas on His Work and Campaign to End Sexuality-Based Discrimination
The blessing regarding the (mostly) guys who make indie films is that knowing their work provides a cool one-percenter feeling of being one of the elite relatively few who are in on the awesomeness; the curse is that the appeal of these labors of love and the men who make them elicits righteous indignation that the studio systems prevents them from making widely distributed films that have the integrity to which every director and writer should aspire. This particularly is true regarding young lion Lithuanian auteur Romas Zabarauskas.
The (reviewed) semi-autobiographical Zabarauskas film "You Can't Escape Lithuania" discusses the extent to which this triple threat producer/director/writer will go to get his vision in front of audiences. The reel-life Zabarauskas refers to the real incident of his sire offering a nude photo of himself as a crowd funding premium to make a movie. One cannot imagine Affleck and Damon issuing similar "junk" bonds if faced with a lack of funds for "Good Will Hunting."
On top of this, Zabarauskas uses both the media of film and the exposure (no pun intended) that his movies provide to further his cause of shedding light on the government-supported rampant discrimination against homosexuals in Lithuania. This is particularly so in the (also reviewed) superb 2011 film "Porno Melodrama," which is light on the former and moderately heavy on the latter.
Logistical considerations required conducting a recent interview with Zabarauskas over email. The American tradition of doing everything in a half-assed manner requires mostly just pasting the submitted questions and received answers below with minor editing.
1. You “escaped” the repressive culture in Lithuania to attend film schools in Paris and New York; why did you go back?
Think global, act local. As a filmmaker, I need to work with the context I know best, and at least for now it's the Lithuanian one.
It's also not a selfless choice. I feel happy by meaningfully contributing to positive changes here. And despite many challenges, LGBT+ community and culture is getting stronger and more colourful here in Lithuania. It's exciting to be part of it.
2. Can you provide any sense of challenges related to dating a more reticent man in such an oppressive culture considering your activism, your films, and posing for widely circulated nude photos?
My boyfriend accepts me for who I am, so it's all fine. And although our culture is indeed oppressive, I consider us both very privileged – we don't face any danger or abuse, we hold hands in the middle of Vilnius and rarely receive any insults for it. As for my "nudes", ya wish – it was only one photo and not widely circulated, simply sent for the backers of my last film to make the crowdfunding campaign more fun and eye-catching.
3. Your films address the above; to what extent are they auto-biographical?
It would spoil my secrets if I'd tell you which things are real and which aren't. Some of the craziest things in You Can't Escape Lithuania are true, I can tell you this much... And the shooting of this film indeed became surreal when reality and fiction started to mix. But perhaps that's a subject of another movie to make.
4. Your films indicate that your parents strongly support your art; has that enthusiasm waned regarding the controversial and explicit nature of your films?
No, my family stays truly supportive. But do you really think my films are that controversial? Rather tame I would say, by today's standards. At the same time, it's hard for me to imagine a film without some sexual exploration. Filming other people's feelings, thoughts, intimate moments – that's somewhat erotic in itself.
5. Speaking of which, have you had any concrete sense of your films (especially “Porno” and “Escape”) impacting reform in Lithuania?
I don't consider my films educational or trying to make a straightforward point for tolerance and equality. But they certainly did contribute [to] promoting LGBT+ visibility and culture in Lithuania. Otherwise, I take credit for pushing some famous people to voice their support for the LGBT+ equality, and others – to come out. I do some social initiatives aside from my movies which might have contributed to changing attitudes more directly. For example, a year ago I published a book "Lithuania Comes Out: 99 LGBT+ Stories". That was truly groundbreaking – never before there were so many Lithuanians coming out so openly, and from such different backgrounds.
6. Do you think that a fear of being outed prevents gay politicians in Lithuania from being more supportive of reform?
Might be! I think that in general most of our politicians are either truly backwards, or pretending to be – in order to be elected. Not much hope here, but it will still change for the better sometime in the future.
7. As a citizen of a repressive country, what do you consider the purpose of Pride? Is it to too show that there are many mainstream gay men and lesbian women who simply want equality and mean straight people no harm or is it an excuse for hairless 18 year-olds to roller skate only wearing Speedos and overweight hairy middle-aged men to parade in dresses?
Well, I see nothing wrong in people expressing themselves in different ways! For me, the purpose of Pride is to commemorate [the] Stonewall Riots and continue the global campaign for LGBT+ equality. We need to remember our history and keep writing it further.
8. What are you working on, and what does your future hold?
I'm currently working on my upcoming film The Lawyer. It will only be ready in 2019, so there is not much I can share with you now, but if you're curious – follow our page on Facebook and be the first to know!
As the above responses demonstrate, Zabarauskas is a bright and committed guy who is committed to the cause and providing inspiration and a voice for his repressed brother. One can be sure that he will be an influence if the Lithuanian government fully joins most of the world in the 21st century.