EL GANZO wins at Salento

Steve Balderson’s film EL GANZO won the Best Feature Film Award at Salento International Film Festival held in Tricase, Italy 2015.  The film also won Best Actor for Anslem Richardson and Best Cinematography for Daniel Stephens.

Harper’s Bazaar declares the film “hits especially close to home,” and the Salento Jury reports (in Italian): “per la straordinaria capacità, poeticamente espressa, di prospettare come chiavi, sia per la sopravvivenza che per la vita, il recupero della propria interiorità, l’accettazione della propria individualità, a prescindere dai ruoli sociali. Per il messaggio di speranza, ognuno può reinventare ex novo la propria esistenza confidando nell’altro sconosciuto e diverso.”

EL GANZO was produced entirely in Mexico and tells the story of a brief and intense companionship between two travelers: a struggling artist on the verge of a break-through (Anslem Richardson) and a mysterious woman with a hidden and unknown past (Susan Traylor).

The film is also of historical significance.  Merely weeks after filming wrapped, Hurricane Odile struck Los Cabos and destroyed Hotel El Ganzo and nearly everything appearing in the film.  The spirit of the place, and its people, and the magic captured in EL GANZO, no longer exists on Earth in the same way.

Founded in 2004 and set in Salento, the film festival is dedicated to showcasing the very best independent films from around the world.  The award ceremony was held in Piazza Pisanelli, in the heart of the Historic Centre of Tricase.  Director Balderson attended the event and was joined by actress Susan Traylor, cinematographer Daniel Stephens, and producer Jennifer Dreiling.

“It was an honor to share EL GANZO with the people of Salento,” Balderson said, “I’m inspired by their kindness and generosity.”

EL GANZO recently screened in London at the Raindance Film Festival, and will be the centerpiece of the Los Cabos International Film Festival in Mexico, held November 11-15.

More information: www.DIKENGA.com

HELL TOWN and OCCUPYING ED headline NCGLFF this weekend

HELL TOWN and OCCUPYING ED are opening night selections at the North Carolina Gay & Lesbian Film Festival this weekend.  The screening times are as follows.  Actors Owen Lawless and BeckiJo Neill will be there with me to present the film and do a Q&A.

HELL TOWN
AUG 14 @ 11 PM
AUG 15 @ 11:20 PM
AUG 19 @ 9:20 PM

OCCUPYING ED
AUG 14 @ 6:45 PM
AUG 16 @ 10:50 AM
AUG 19 @ 7:10 PM

THE CAROLINA THEATRE OF DURHAM
309 WEST MORGAN ST / DURHAM, NC 27701

MEDIA DETOUR reviews EL GANZO

El Ganzo Review by Tyler Selig, MEDIA DETOUR

An emotional story of two strangers in Mexico. No, it doesn’t involve crime. Damn it stereotypes, go away.

Lizzy is a woman with an unknown past who makes her way to the Hotel El Ganzo in Mexico. There she meets an artist named Guy who is trying really hard to find the inspiration for his big breakthrough. The newest film by experimental auteur Steve Balderson relies on the relationship that forms between the two main characters; two lost souls/travelers who find each other and form an organic, and spiritual, bond with one another.

We don’t need to know a lot about where they come from, but we learn a little. I won’t spoil any of it, but the heart of the film is in the now — not the past and not the future. It is the kind of film that places the viewer as a fly on the wall, as we watch these strangers awkwardly meet but then grow into much more.

In a movie like this, the actors fueling the action need to be at the top of their game. Luckily, both Susan Traylor and Anslem Richardson dive head first into their roles and truly bring Lizzy and Guy to life. They are an unlikely duo, each with their own anchors preventing them from moving forward, until they find the appropriate reasons to do so. They are both charming and have a tremendous amount of chemistry so watching them perform is a good example of how powerful cinema can be.

It doesn’t even require constant drama in order to be affective. Many movies would have some massive quarrel appear between the two leads in an attempt to cheaply create admiration for both them and the audience. No such attempt exists here, and there’s actually very little hostility on display. Yet the movie doesn’t suffer for it because while Lizzy and Guy are not exciting per se, they are real. And that’s infinitely more important.

I have a very miniscule problem with the way it is edited on occasion as it comes off as a little disjointed and jarring. Moments when the characters are sitting there silently only to be quickly moved in the next frame can be a little disrupting. At the same time, there are periods where the director has chosen to splice dialogue over a scene where the actors are doing something that isn’t necessarily related to what is being said. That is a fascinating approach to advancing the narrative while presenting something a little off-the-cuff.

Balderson has used many different techniques in his movies which is why he’s such an exciting director. Here he brings the area to life with wide, lingering shots, often photographing Mexico in a way we rarely see. Instead of coming off as some seedy escape (as it often does in mainstream movies), it is shown as the beautiful place that it is. I can’t actually recall the last time I saw it showcased so wonderfully.

Layered on top of his imagery is a soundtrack that is minimal but potent. There are only a few different songs throughout the course of the hour and a half, ranging from droning ambient music to moving piano to more traditional Mexican folk music, but it adds a motif to the whole experience and drives the point home.

While this will undoubtedly be mentioned in every review, I feel it is necessary to point out. Everything you see in this movie is now destroyed because Hurricane Odile hit Los Cabos shortly after filming was finished. It’s a true tragedy for obvious reasons but it does paint a different portrait now, with this being one of the last documented accounts of Hotel El Ganzo. It’s hard not to get a little more emotional watching it when one is aware of this fact.

El Ganzo is a great film; slow but never boring, it’s meticulously crafted with gentleness and love. It’s proof that you can tell a simple tale of two people, without forced burdens that they need to overcome, and have it resonate with the audience.

Summary: FOUR STARS
El Ganzo is overflowing with heart and beauty. An unlikely relationship blooms between a slightly odd, yet endearing, woman and a struggling artist… and it is a pleasure to watch.

More on EL GANZO @ DIKENGA.com

MEDIA DETOUR reviews HELL TOWN

HELL TOWN review by MEDIA DETOUR

High school can be a difficult time. Hell Town tackles the issues that present themselves when the teenagers aren’t studying, doing work or playing sports; it is about the drama that occurs outside of the classroom, when they are left to their own devices. It is about the relationships that form, both sexual and romantic, and the way that they interact with one another as friends. They deal with the problems that arise when there is a girl who seemingly sleeps with everybody in school, or how it would be for a homosexual jock who is wrestling with the fact he is gay. A goth kid is misunderstood and ignored by mostly everybody while another girl tries to make ends meet by working a minimum wage job.

There is also a killer, nicknamed by the media as the “Letter Jacket Killer”, running amok.

Hell Town is an exercise in genre mashing that luckily doesn’t lose sight of its goal. We witness three episodes of the titular fictional melodramatic soap opera, only the twist is that the film makers inform us that seasons 1 and 3 have been lost in a fire and these episodes are remastered versions. We get dropped into what is most likely the middle of a season, and we get the typical prelude which tells us what happened previously. We essentially have a movie where the actors are playing actors who are playing characters on a television show.

Which means that what unfolds on screen is hammy. Incredibly and intentionally so. The actors are given cheesy lines that they deliver with true conviction because they are in a soap opera. Anybody who has ever watched one knows that they have a deliberate pulpy charm but are rarely known for any form of excellence. Some of the worst lines ever committed to film are said here, and watching Owen Lawless, as Jesse Manly, excellently declare “I don’t want to be gay” is a sight to be seen. It’s funny and that’s what counts. None of the actors are giving award-winning performances but to expect that from this movie is missing the point.

Sometimes I struggle with reviewing films that are purposely bad, just like I don’t know what to score a movie like The Room which is unintentionally terrible. Any schmuck can make a bad movie but not crossing the line between good parody and excessive, unoriginal crap can be a challenge. Soap operas are ripe for the picking so this could have been well have been just another bland mockery of something that is easy to make fun of, but it’s so much more than that.

In an attempt to switch things up, directors Steve Balderson and Elizabeth Spear have also embraced another genre with conventions so silly that it would take a brain dead idiot not to notice them: the slasher flick. Interestingly enough, the slasher has gotten a little bit of recognition — at least in my eyes — over the past two years, because of the fantastic film The Guest. The concept remains the same but like the soap opera aspect of the film, it is self-aware. There is blood and guts, but it’s not over-indulgent.

Incorporating this brand of horror into the movie only heightens the experience and adds more substance. It makes Hell Town more original than it would have been had they merely stuck to the soaps. While it is very easy to enjoy the absurdity of the characters on that level alone, there is also the mystery of who is going around terrorizing them.

It’s over-the-top and the people are vulgar. Since it is a low-budget, independent feature, it has to work within certain constraints that bigger pictures don’t have to. While it strives to be nothing more than an entertaining time, the nature of it hides talented film making. While it may get lost among the main talking point (how silly it is), the cinematography here is excellent. The angles, the lighting; all of it brilliantly mimics soap opera conventions.

In that same sense, I also got a Lynchian vibe from the whole ordeal. It lacks the surrealism of Twin Peaks, but there’s a menacing cloud hanging over the town at all times, where even someone running track seems more sinister than it should. While it is filmed differently than Blue Velvet, there’s still a similar tone; the town is more evil underneath its plastic and normal exterior than an outsider may perceive.

When it ended by telling me what is going to happen next time on Hell Town, I came to my own realization: I wanted this show to exist. I’d watch the shit out of it.

Get HELL TOWN @ DIKENGA.com

FANBOYTV reviews HELL TOWN

HELL TOWN review by FANBOYTV

You never know what you’re in for when you sit down to watch a movie made with a smaller budget, with no famous actors, and that is self-distributed. Sometimes you can have a good result from somebody who knows what they’re doing, and knows how take what they have at their disposal, and make it work. Sometimes you have an unfortunate result, where it seems like the idea of “let’s make a movie” was the whole pitch and “knowing how to make a movie” was of secondary concern. HELL TOWN was, pleasantly, an example of the former. HELL TOWN knows exactly what it is, what it’s doing, and how to communicate that to the viewer.

HELL TOWN presents itself as a television show, pulled out of some long forgotten studio vault. We are told right away that we are watching episodes 7, 8, and 9 from season two of HELL TOWN the series, and also informs us that seasons 1 and 3 have been lost in a fire. While there is no actual HELL TOWN the series, the movie invites the audience to be a passive participant in its own nested mythos.

We’re introduced, quickly, to our cast of characters. The hunky shirtless jock, the Marsha Brady on the outside/Betty Page on the inside teen princess, the jealous and barely-holding it together sister, the scheming nurse, the aging millionaire father, the acerbic friend, the ostracized gay brother, the middle class adoptee with a chip on her shoulder. In any other film, this use of tired archetype characters going through the motions on stories that have long ago been beaten to death, because HELL TOWN is a play on these types, they work very well. What’s more is that HELL TOWN toes the line of parody without becoming overly referential and dipping into Jason Freidberg and Aaron Seltzer “bad parody” territory.

Like sands through the hourglass, so are the days of our character’s lives. Trish wants to sleep with Blaze. Blaze is sleeping with Trish’s best friend. Butch lusts after Trish. Laura lusts after Butch. Jesse lusts after Bobby, and Bobby is totally into it, but Jesse is struggling with admitting his homosexuality. B.J. is waiting around every corner to watch everything fall apart and Chanel is coping with her comatose adopted mother, and the fact that her sworn enemy is trying to sleep with Blaze. Most of this wild setup unfolds in the first ten minutes of the film. All of it would be very effective satire of the soap opera genre, but to keep things fresh, bloody, and interesting; one of these characters is picking the others off one-by-one, under the moniker “The Letter Jacket Killer.” This shadowy serial murderer seems to have an agenda, and collects the varsity letters from the blood soaked coats of the victims.

Both genres that are on the chopping block in this movie, over-the-top melodrama and over-the-top slasher horror, lend themselves well to parody, and HELL TOWN finds a nice comfortable nest to hunker down in. Here, it can deftly straddle a line between the two, and still keep things fresh and funny. Between bloody castration and violently deadly fellatio, we also have a soap-opera mid-season replacement of an actress. The part of Laura Gable is played by two separate actresses, with little explanation given and, if one is a practitioner of soap operas, there’s probably no explanation needed.

With that we have the cornerstone of what sets HELL TOWN apart from most other parodies: the idea that in setting up this nested mythos, we have the actors playing their parts on two different levels. On one level we have the characters as presented in the narrative. On another level we have actors playing actors playing the characters as presented in the narrative. So one actually finds that while the characters on the narrative level aren’t giving a natural-feeling performance, they aren’t meant to. They’re actually playing actors, giving very boisterous and over the top performances in a ridiculous story, and those performances serve the over-all film very well. Butch may have a few ham-fisted lines, but Ben Windholz is giving a very sincere performance, of an actor playing a character who’s had ham-fisted lines written for him.

Taken separately, I think the idea of yet another horror parody or another soap opera parody might have worn thin. However, HELL TOWN manages to blend the two very nicely. It’s a creamy mixture of the ridiculously melodramatic with the violently macabre.

GET HELL TOWN @ DIKENGA.com

HELL TOWN award nominations

 

Congrats to all #hellions out there!  HELL TOWN is nominated for 6 Crimson Screen Horror Awards and will screen in Charleston 16 May 2015 at 7pm.  It’s easy to be a #hellion, simply use the image below for your new Facebook Cover pic to help promote HELL TOWN!

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ZombieLife talks to HELL TOWN cast/crew

This radio interview with Eddie Rotten and ZombieLife Podcast was one of the coolest experiences I’ve had.  I was joined on the night of the HELL TOWN premiere (presented by the Austin Horror Society at the Alamo Drafthouse) with Elizabeth Spear, Owen Lawless, BeckiJo Neill, Kyle Eno and Sarah Napier.  Listen to our interview HERE or by clicking the logo below.

ZombieLife logo 2

Next HELL TOWN screening is in Charleston, SC at Crimson Screen Horror Film Fest on May 16.  Details at www.DIKENGA.com

 

KAREN BLACK

I first met the actress Karen Black in 2001 when I stopped by her house to try and persuade her to star in my film FIRECRACKER.  She knew I was coming, so she let me in.  I was instantly hooked on watching her body movements and facial expressions.  There was something about her entire being that reminded me of a wild cat… like a panther or a jaguar.

She seemed to float on the air, feet never touching the ground.  I would later remember this and encourage the Oscar-winning sound designer Paul N. J. Ottosson to remove Karen Black’s foley from one of her characters in FIRECRACKER so she would appear to subconsciously float, otherworldly through the film.

Karen eventually agreed to star in FIRECRACKER and we went about making the film.  She was an incredible trooper on set.  One of my favorite scenes is when her character Sandra leans out of her gypsy wagon to talk to the young boy.  During filming, when it was time to reverse the camera and get the kid’s shot, it was nearly 5 AM and we’d been filming since long before sunset.  Several people on the crew were worried about getting Karen back to her room so she could sleep but she stood firm, and refused to go.  She wanted to stay and be there to act with the kid who was being filmed.  She was a total pro.

In the years after FIRECRACKER came out, Karen and I remained good friends and I’d look her up every time I was in Los Angeles.  We always daydreamed of another project and when we would be able to work together again.

In 2008, Karen was being honored at the Macon Film Festival and they were to show my film FIRECRACKER, so I was flown in to present it with her.  It was such a lovely town, we decided to make a movie there.  Screenwriter Frankie Krainz had just finished his ode to film noir women in prison movies, and Karen said, “I’ve always wanted to be in a women’s prison movie and no one’s ever asked me to be in one.  Isn’t that peculiar?”  So we decided to make STUCK! together.

At first I’d thought of casting John Waters’ muse Mink Stole as the part of the Next Door Neighbor Lady, and Karen as the bible-beating shooter on death row for gunning down an entire fleet of tax collectors.  Karen really wanted the part I had in mind for Mink, and eventually I convinced Mink to take the part I’d originally had in mind for Karen.  It ended up being a great switch, and both women were perfect in their roles.

One of my favorite moments during the filming of STUCK! came when we were shooting a scene near the end of the film, where Karen’s character is riddled with guilt.  In that room, on the set, we turned to each other after a take and looked around.  It was just the three of us.  Karen, me, and my sound guy.  I made the comment about how amazing this was, this experience.  How intimate and real and honest.  She smiled and said, “THIS is filmmaking.”

I am so very lucky to have been able to work with her and to be her friend.

Last week Karen Black passed away after a long battle with ampullary cancer, a rare form similar to pancreatic cancer.

The days leading up to her death were filled with lovely texts and email exchanges.  One night, I sent her this text:

“I had a cry for you today.  In your honor.  I was sitting in my editing room, which is the same room you loved, on the second floor, with the North facing windows.  And I smiled.  And felt your love and support.  And I hope you can feel mine for you.  You are a treasure.  After work I like to go outside in my yard and look up at trees, see the leaves and the branches.  All those shapes and lines.  You once taught me its important to do that after sitting at a computer.  You also have taught me the gift of collaboration.  I shall never forget those incredible moments creating with you.  I love you with all my heart.  Now.  Next.  And then some.  Cheers, my dear.  To YOU!”

She replied with kisses and was eager to hear about what I was working on next.  It was such a blessing to have had the chance to say farewell to her personally.  And it was so lovely to just keep on going.

Please, everyone.  Take a moment and watch this clip of Karen’s most memorable films.

Our film FIRECRACKER is now streaming on demand.

Dear Karen:  Know that you are loved and will be missed.  Thank you for being one of my collaborators, one of my cohorts and my friend.

PUBLICITY: When to do it

There are different kinds of publicity meant for different stages of making a movie and releasing it.

The most important is the publicity to sell the movie to the audience.  This is done once the film has already been sold to a distribution company, and although that distribution company will have its own PR and marketing plan, chances are it won’t be as much as you can do on your own (or with another hired PR firm).

During this phase of publicity, you’ll want to get out there on social media (Facebook, Twitter, etc) and be featured in magazines geared towards your demographic (if you have a tattoo themed movie, for instance, you’ll want to hit up all the magazines and news outlets for ink and body modification).  You’ll also want to get your movie reviewed by all the critics you can—no matter what media outlets they write for.

Please make note that it can be counterproductive to do this kind of publicity unless you have a release date.  Most media outlets do not want to publish a story that isn’t newsworthy.  If your film doesn’t have a release date, or hasn’t been picked up for distribution yet, it doesn’t matter to the general populace.  If the public has no means to see your film, why do they want to read about it?

It could also be counterproductive because in our culture of instant gratification, when someone reads about something they are interested in, they want to click on it NOW and buy it NOW or watch it NOW.  It’s one thing to build buzz for your project a few weeks from the release date, but it’s another thing to try and build it over the course of a year.  People will lose interest unless you can hook them and keep them hooked.

The second most important publicity is the kind to use as a means to get distribution.  This kind of marketing can sometimes overlap with marketing to the general public.  But be careful.  You’ll want to get some advance reviews, share news about film festival screenings and acclaim or awards won, but remember what I previously mentioned: If your film doesn’t have a release date, or hasn’t been picked up for distribution yet, it doesn’t matter to the general populace.

This kind of publicity could be more focused.  For example, if your film is going to premiere at a film festival that industry buyers will be attending, you might consider compiling a list of every distribution company’s acquisitions people (names and addresses), and send postcards to alert them.  Emails can get buried and lost these days.  I’ve found direct mailing works wonders because most people have forgotten about it.  So when they receive a sharply designed, tangible object they can hold, it’s unusual.  And memorable.

If you want to hire a professional PR firm, be prepared to pay thousands of dollars.  They will likely not spend as much time pushing your project as you would on your own, but they know whom to call and have relationships with the media bigwigs you don’t.  Still, that doesn’t keep you from picking up the phone and introducing yourself to those same bigwigs.  Remember, emails get lost or buried.  It’s much more effective to call the Editor of whatever news outlet on the phone directly.

Another thing you might want to do is gather endorsements or quotes about your project from celebrities to use in your press kit.  This needs to be done totally under the radar and in private.  It’s a great idea to include this kind of thing in your marketing materials.  It’s silly to think that people are mostly incapable of independent thought, but it’s really true.  If you tell them what to think of your movie, they generally do.  And if so-and-so said it was great, well, then, it must be!

Remember that famous tagline: you only have one chance to make a first impression.  Premature publicity of any sort could be a disaster for your film, so when you’re about to embark on your own marketing journey, ask yourself, “is now the right time?  Could we benefit from waiting a bit longer?”