Movie Magic in the 502

CD Kaplan, director Laura Dunn, Mary Berry and producers Nick Offerman and Owsley Brown III at last year’s premiere of “Look & See: A Portrait of
Wendell Berry.” Photos Courtesy of Louisville Film Society.

By Mariah Kline

Last August, our city was abuzz over the arrival of actors Nicolas Cage and Selma Blair to our Old Kentucky Home. The pair, among other actors and producers, came to town to shoot the movie “Mom and Dad,” which is set to be released later this year. Soon, the talk of tax incentives and plans for other movies dominated the conversation about Louisville’s “up and coming” film scene. What many do not realize is that the Louisville Film Society (LFS) has been promoting the cinematic arts and helping enhance Kentucky’s influence on the film industry for nearly a decade.

Now in its ninth year, the Flyover Film Festival will screen seven exceptional films from July 23 to 28. The festival’s name comes from the industry misconception that Kentucky is in the “flyover region” between Los Angeles and New York. Each film presented this year possesses a connection to the Bluegrass State, whether the project was filmed here or a Kentuckian played a role in its making. To fully grasp their impact and give readers a thorough rundown of each, we spoke with directors, producers and other key players involved in the making of all seven films.

Gill Holland, Mayor Greg Fischer, Mary Jo Berry, Christy Brown and Owsley Brown III.

Local businessman, film producer and founding board member of LFS Gill Holland executive produced two of the festival’s films, “Most Beautiful Island” and “Beauty Mark,” the latter of which was filmed in the Portland neighborhood. His background in producing has taken him to many parts of the world, but he says filming “Beauty Mark” in the Commonwealth made for an exceptional experience.

“People are really nice and welcoming in Kentucky,” he says. “Folks are more apt to let you shoot in their home or building, cook you dinner, come out and be extras in the film, etc.”

Holland also emphasizes that every dollar in a film’s budget can go further in Kentucky than in more expensive states. His local label, sonaBLAST! even lets filmmakers use music from Kentucky musicians at no cost to increase awareness of the label’s artists.

“A number of films made in Kentucky have gone on to have their world premieres at top-tier fests,” says Soozie Eastman, executive director of LFS, “including Sundance, SXSW, Los Angeles and Tribeca. LFS is fortunate that we have relationships with many filmmakers, and we’re able to bring an exclusive screening opportunity to Louisvillians for brand new movies that might not be in theaters for a while as they travel the festival circuit.”

For those who are interested in seeing the state’s transformation into a filmmaking destination firsthand, Holland says starting out in the business doesn’t necessarily need to be difficult.

“A good thing about independent film is that there’s no barrier to enter,” he says. “It just entails making some connections in whatever location the film is shooting. Then it is important to know what you will be able to bring to the project. Independent films are cool because you can discover the next famous star and help launch careers.”

The first step in getting involved may be to come out and see some of the excellent, Kentucky-affiliated films for yourself. As you read up on each, we hope you’ll be inspired to not only take part in the Flyover Film Festival but also become a follower of Louisville’s film scene as a whole.

“Louisville and its residents are so supportive of the arts and cultural institutions in our city,” affirms Eastman. “We are exceptionally proud of our own. The work LFS does throughout the year culminates into one week that presents something for all film lovers and filmmakers in our community.”

Beauty Mark

See this if you want an up-close look at life in the Portland neighborhood. Take your friend who loves all things local or enjoys the music of Ben Sollee, who did the film’s score.

Filmed entirely in the Portland neighborhood of Louisville, this film tells the tale of Angie, a young mom who is forced to find a new home for her son and her alcoholic mother Ruth Ann. With a condemned home and very little money, Angie must seek help from her childhood abuser, the only person she knows who can assist her financially. This heartbreaking story was inspired by true events and uses the neighborhood as an authentic background.

The character of Angie is played by breakout star Auden Thornton, who won a Special Jury Prize at the Los Angeles Film Festival for her role. This award is well deserved according to the film’s director, Harris Doran, who calls Thornton one of the most talented actresses he’s ever worked with. The film also features Lexington native Laura Bell Bundy and Catherine Curtin, who stars on “Orange Is the New Black” and will be appearing in the new season of “Stranger Things.”

Gill Holland executive produced “Beauty Mark,” and his passion for reviving Portland is the main reason it was shot here.

“Places like the Portland neighborhood have never been portrayed in a film before, so there is a beauty to bringing something new to cinema,” Holland explains. “We’ve seen Wall Street or SoHo or L.A. highways millions of times in TV shows and movies, so it’s not really special anymore.”

One scene in the movie was shot at The Table, the pay-what-you-can restaurant on Portland Avenue. The restaurant was also hired to do the film’s catering during production. Doran says filming at the local eatery and in the Bluegrass State was a fantastic experience.

“Kentucky is a beautiful place to film,” he emphasizes. “People are so nice and generous, and Portland is a beautiful area that’s trying to come around. It was a wonderful experience for everyone on the crew, including people who live in Louisville but haven’t actually spent time there.”

The film’s heavy subject matter not only serves to engage the audience but also to bring awareness to an important cause. The filmmakers have partnered with local organization Family and Children’s Place, which works to put a stop to and prevent child abuse.

“This film is about the triumph of the human spirit over seemingly impossible odds,” says Doran. “Since it deals with the topic of child abuse, this partnership is bringing awareness to a subject that people find very difficult and uncomfortable to talk about. It’s amazing to be part of a film that’s not just entertainment but can also be part of helping people and making the world better.”

Kentucky premiere of “Beauty Mark”: $7 LFS members, $9 general admission

Q&A with director Harris Doran and special guests to follow

Bomhard Theatre at The Kentucky Center

Friday, July 28 at 7 p.m.

Runtime: 1 hour 27 minutes

More info: facebook.com/beautymarkfilm

Most Beautiful Island

See this if you like thrillers or movies with a strong female lead. Take your friend who’s interested in immigration politics.

Set in New York City over the course of a day, this thriller explores the lives of undocumented female immigrants and their daily struggles to get by. Main character Luciana, a Latina immigrant, works two jobs to make ends meet but still faces eviction. In order to make her rent, she ends up participating in a possibly deadly, twisted game designed for the amusement of the wealthy. The film was shot with a Super 16mm camera, giving it an “intimate, voyeuristic sensibility.”

Lead actress Ana Asensio also directed, wrote and produced “Most Beautiful Island.” She says audience members will have “a visceral and exciting experience” while viewing the film, and the story can be interpreted in many ways. The film won an incredible honor with the 2017 SXSW Grand Jury Award for Narrative Feature. The victory was made all the more sweet for Asensio since it took a number of years to produce the film the way she wanted.

“It feels amazing and surreal in a way,” she says. “This is such a personal film with such a personal vision. I had to fight many battles to make it ‘my way,’ and honestly, I didn’t know if the audience was going to understand it or like it. But since I was involved in all aspects of the film, I needed to do something that I 100 percent believed in.”

Louisvillian Gill Holland executive produced the film and was proud to see its successes firsthand.

“I met Ana, the ‘quadruple threat,’ maybe a decade or so ago,” he says. “Since she was making her first film, I was able to somewhat mentor the project. I was proud to be there at SXSW for the world premiere when we won the Grand Prize.”

As for her acting performance, Asensio says the role had its challenges but still came naturally to her.

“Since I had very limited time to shoot each scene, I gave priority to my directing role on set and put aside the attention to my own performance,” Asensio explains. “This is something that I struggled with internally, but I had more decisions to make as a director than as an actor. I had been developing the role for so many years and was so close to Luciana that I was able to just trust my instincts with the performance even though it was scary.”

Kentucky premiere of “Most Beautiful Island”: $7 LFS members, $9 general admission

Q&A with director and actress Ana Asensio to follow.

Speed Cinema

Wednesday, July 26 at 7 p.m.

Run time: 1 hour 20 minutes

And Then I Go

See this if you’re looking for something dark yet hopeful or if you liked “We Need to Talk About Kevin.” Take your friend who likes heavy or suspenseful movies.

Based on Jim Shepard’s novel “Project X,” this drama follows bullied junior high students Edwin and Flake. The misunderstood pair dreams up an idea for revenge that may have life or death consequences. Directed by Vincent Grashaw, the film delves into childhood friendships and adolescence at its darkest. This psychological thriller will leave the audience guessing until the very end as to whether Edwin and Flake will go through with their vengeful plot against their classmates.

This full-length drama features young stars Arman Darbo and Sawyer Barth as Edwin and Flake, respectively. Justin Long and Melanie Lynskey star as Edwin’s concerned parents. Jim Shepard, who also authored “The Book of Aron,” adapted the screenplay along with Brett Haley. The film premiered at the 2017 Los Angeles Film Festival.

“And Then I Go” was filmed in Louisville using many local crew and cast members. Producers Rebecca Green and Laura D. Smith, who spent the most time here out of the full cast and crew, immediately felt welcomed in the 502.

“We were greeted by very generous individuals who helped us quickly get to know the city, crew and resources we needed to make the film,” says Green. “We very much enjoyed our time there experiencing the great food scene and, of course, the amazing bourbon.”

Green also produced the 2014 indie hit “It Follows,” a unique horror film about a young woman pursued by a supernatural presence. Green says both films appealed to her because they both gave new perspectives within their respective genres.

“What I see at the center of both movies are characters who feel alienated and misunderstood by their family and friends,” she explains. “They struggle to hold onto their childhood and those last moments of adolescent friendship.”

Kentucky premiere of “And Then I Go”: $7 LFS members, $9 general admission

Q&A with director Vincent Grashaw and lead actor Arman Darbo to follow

Bomhard Theatre at The Kentucky Center

Sunday, July 23 at 5:30 p.m.

Runtime: 1 hour 35 minutes

Fermented

See this if you love Edward Lee’s restaurants or if you want a lively lesson on an underutilized cooking practice. Take your friend who has seen every episode of “Chef’s Table” or watches a lot of Travel Channel.

This film about the world of fermentation took Chef Edward Lee and director Jonathan Cianfrani  on a journey through Kentucky, San Francisco, Chicago, New York, New Jersey and Japan as they learned about the ancient art. This informative and entertaining documentary gives audiences an understanding of the fermentation process, how it creates one-of-a-kind flavors and the cultural traditions associated with the process.

“We wanted to distinguish our film from others by making it lighthearted and informative but not dry,” says Cianfrani. “We also really wanted to emphasize the characters, food and techniques involved in keeping this tradition alive.”

Cianfrani, who admits he knew very little about the fermentation process before the film, followed Edward Lee around the world as they learned about the practice from different artisans and chefs. As they spent time in rural parts of Japan as well as major American cities, they discovered the practice’s history and learned how people at home can implement the practice themselves. However, the pair and their crew also spent a day at Lee’s Louisville home, filming on the chef’s back porch and enjoying a crew meal at MilkWood.

Lee is known nationally for his appearances on “Top Chef” and “The Mind of a Chef” and revered locally for his restaurants MilkWood and 610 Magnolia. First-time director Cianfrani has also produced several episodes of “The Mind of a Chef” as well as the Discovery Channel’s “Brew Masters.” “Fermented” premiered at the 2017 Seattle National Film Festival.

Taste of Flyover including two films + tasting: $20 LFS members, $25 general admission

Q&A with director Jonathan Cianfrani and Chef Edward Lee to follow

Bomhard Theatre at The Kentucky Center

Monday, July 23 at 5:30 p.m.

Runtime: 1 hour 7 minutes

More info: fermentedfilm.com

Serenade for Haiti

See this if you’re interested in watching young musicians overcome tragic circumstances. Take your friend who enjoys classical music or has volunteered abroad.

A thriving classical music school in Haiti is profiled in this documentary from Louisville native Owsley Brown III, who directed and executive produced the film. Brown met some of the students of Sainte Trinité Music School at the invitation of family friend Stephen Davenport. Brown was moved by the passionate musicians, and when he later visited the school, he saw a story ready to be told.

He spent two years in Port-au-Prince chronicling the lives of the students and administrators at Sainte Trinité. He returned to the United States to begin editing the film at the end of 2009, but just two weeks later, the devastating earthquake of January 2010 occurred. So what happens when an unspeakable tragedy affects the subjects of your documentary? You return to help and document the rebuilding of their lives.

Brown and his team, including producer Christy McGill, began shooting again in 2014 to capture the rebuilding of the school and follow up with its students and faculty. Everything in the school was destroyed by the earthquake, including rehearsal spaces, performance halls and instruments.

“The resiliency of everyone there is incredible,” says McGill. “They’re also tired and a little downtrodden from going against such terrible odds. The subjects of the film are artists who have a great sense of purpose in their art, their school and their community. They’re putting this wonderful, high-minded but also realistic, concrete community at the forefront and making it a priority at a great cost to themselves.”

The film documents the nightmare that everyone at Sainte Trinité has been through, but also captures the hope and power that music has on all of them.

“Every day, these children from all backgrounds show up with bright faces and joy in their hearts,” says McGill. “They care so much about their musical education and their studies and it’s such an inspiring thing to see.”

“Serenade for Haiti” has already received critical acclaim and been made an official selection at seven film festivals. Brown worked alongside cinematographer and Louisvillian Marcel Cabrera. However, the connection to Kentucky also includes Haitian composer Julio Racine, who was born in Haiti and attended the University of Louisville School of Music. Racine served as the music director at Sainte Trinité Music School for a number of years and now resides in Louisville once again.

Kentucky premiere of “Serenade for Haiti”: $7 LFS members, $9 general admission

Q&A with director Owsley Brown III and special guests to follow

Speed Cinema

Tuesday, July 25 at 7 p.m.

Runtime: 1 hour 10 minutes

More info: serenadeforhaiti.com

Tragedy Girls

See this if you liked “Heathers” or the Scream franchise. Take your friend who reads young adult novels or carefully curates their social media.

This teen comedy/slasher film chronicles the adventures of two Midwestern girls who want to learn how to be serial killers. The death-obsessed best friends use the internet as their primary educational resource and turn their small town into a madhouse. Alexandra Shipp and Brianna Hildebrand star in the dark comedy alongside Kentucky native Josh Hutcherson and comedian Craig Robinson.

Sporting the tagline “Friends who slay together, stay together,” “Tragedy Girls” won’t leave out any teenage angst. For those who don’t normally watch scary movies, director Tyler MacIntyre says this flick is more about the laughs than the scares.

“If you don’t consider yourself a fan of horror movies, this one could be for you,” MacIntyre explains. “There are a lot of different influences we pulled from teen movies and horror movies. It was important for us to try and find a fresh way to tell a story in a genre that people are familiar with.”

The entire film was shot in Kentucky, with Springfield and Lebanon as the main filming locations. In addition to Hutcherson, who grew up in Union, producer Anthony Holt grew up in the Derby City and executive producer Kerry Rhodes played football for UofL from 2000 to 2004. When scouting locations, the filmmakers fell in love our state’s all-American vibe and decided it would be a great fit for the film’s Midwestern setting.

“The towns of Springfield and Lebanon were awesome to work in and very helpful while we were shooting,” says MacIntyre. “A lot of [local] people came out to be extras, so if you’re from the area check it out and see if you can spot some of your friends in the background!”

Kentucky premiere of “Tragedy Girls”: $7 LFS members, $9 general admission

Q&A with director Tyler MacIntyre to follow

Speed Cinema

Thursday, July 27

Runtime: 1 hour 38 minutes

One Hundred Thousand Beating Hearts

See this if you want a quick education on the modern methods of farming. Take your friend who loves binge watching environmentalist documentaries.

This short film tells the story of Will Harris, a fourth-generation cattle farmer in Blufton, Georgia. By following his transition from “industrial, commodity cowboy to sustainable, humane food producer,” director Peter Byck reveals the benefits of regenerative agriculture, which is the process of making soil healthier as food grows.

“It’s critical that more people who produce food look at soil health as their main goal,” Byck tells The Voice-Tribune. “When people do that rather than depleting the land, they make more money, the food is healthier and we’re healthier because we’re eating that food.”

The 15-minute film was shot in four days, one of which was spent shooting with a drone for overhead views of Harris’ farm. The picture won at the 2017 Cleveland International Film Festival for Best Documentary Short Film. “One Hundred Thousand Beating Hearts” is just one part of a series of short films called Carbon Nation 2.0, a sequel of sorts to Byck’s 2010 film “Carbon Nation.” The purpose behind making the films short in length is so that the message behind them can get out quickly and reach as many people as possible.

“I want to celebrate these innovative farmers and ranchers [like Harris],” says Byck. “This will hopefully inspire more food producers to give regenerative agriculture a shot since it means making more money for them while making the land more productive and valuable.”

Byck was born and raised in Louisville, as was the film’s music composer Todd Johnson. Byck spent several weekends as a child exploring Bernheim Forest, and he credits these adventures as the origin of his passion for nature and helping the planet. While he left the Derby City in 1982, Byck returned with his wife and child in 2009. The family currently lives in Phoenix, where Byck works as a professor at Arizona State University – but they still own a house in the Highlands and return as often as they can.

“One Hundred Thousand Beating Hearts” will show on Monday, July 23 as the first part of Taste of Flyover: A 3-Course Food and Film Event. At this showing, guests will sample Southern-inspired foods before viewing “Hearts.” Then they will have the opportunity to see “Fermented,” a documentary that follows Louisville chef Edward Lee as he explores the art and science of fermenting food. VT

Taste of Flyover including two films + tasting: $20 LFS members, $25 general admission

Q&A with director Peter Byck to follow

Bomhard Theatre at The Kentucky Center

Monday, July 23 at 5:30 p.m.

Run time: 15 minutes

More info: soilcarboncowboys.com

Full Schedule

Sunday, July 23. Bomhard Theatre at The Kentucky Center for the Performing Arts

5:30 p.m.: Kentucky premiere of “And Then I Go” followed by a Q&A with director Vincent Grashaw and the film’s lead actor Arman Darbo.

7:30 p.m.: After-party hosted by 21c Museum Hotel for ticket holders, VIPs and sponsors. Light appetizers and cash bar.

Monday, July 24. Bomhard Theatre at The Kentucky Center for the Performing Arts

5:30 p.m.: Taste of Flyover: A 3-Course Food and Film Event featuring heavy Southern-inspired bites and recipes featured in Chef Edward Lee’s cookbook “Smoke and Pickles.”

7 p.m.: Kentucky premieres of “One Hundred Thousand Beating Hearts” and “Fermented” followed by Q&A with Chef Edward Lee and directors Peter Byck and Jonathan Cianfrani.

Tuesday, July 25. Speed Cinema

7 p.m.: Kentucky premiere of feature-length documentary “Serenade for Haiti” followed by Q&A with director Owsley Brown III and special guests.

Wednesday, July 26. Speed Cinema

7 p.m.: Kentucky premiere of “Most Beautiful Island” followed by Q&A with director and actress Ana Asensio.

Thursday, July 27. Speed Cinema

7 p.m.: Kentucky premiere of “Tragedy Girls” followed by Q&A with director Tyler MacIntyre.

Friday, July 28. Bomhard Theatre at The Kentucky Center for the Performing Arts

5 p.m.: “Beauty Mark” pre-screening reception at Aloft Hotel Lobby. Light appetizers and cash bar with additional small bites for purchase.

7 p.m.: Kentucky premiere of “Beauty Mark” followed by Q&A with director Harris Doran and special guests.

9 p.m. After-party for all Flyover Film Festival filmmakers, audience members, sponsors and general public in the lobby of The Kentucky Center. Entertainment includes live performances by local musicians featured during the week’s films, a DJ and a laser light show. Cash bar and affordable bites available for purchase.