Tribeca 2021 Film Festival Capsule Review: Last Meal

Written by Alexander Reams

65/100

Throughout cinematic history food has been a metaphor for countless messages. Until viewing Last Meal I had never associated food with the death penalty. Directors Marcus McKenzie and Daniel Principe take a very serious and generally disheartening subject and make it accessible to audiences by using food as a medium to show those who reveled in the attention and coverage from the media. Even with this unique angle, the film simply doles out facts throughout it’s runtime. One meal in particular that stood out was that of Thomas J. Grasso. His final meal request was the iconic “Spaghetti O’s”, instead he got spaghetti. This stuck with him so much that his final words were that “”I did not get my Spaghetti O’s, I got spaghetti. I want the press to know this”.  There are no interviews with convicts who are on death row, nor interviews with politicians making these decisions. I found it to be a powerful short film and well worth the time despite my gripes.

Last Meal Screener

Graceland is currently playing as part of the Tribeca 2021 Film Festival you can purchase a Shorts Pass to view it here.

You can connect with Alexander on his social media profiles: Instagram, Letterboxd, and Twitter. Or see more of his work on his website.

Interview: Tomer Shushan Talks About Writing and Directing Short Film ‘White Eye’

Tomer Shushan’s White Eye has screened at over 70 film festivals, including 23 Oscar-qualifying. This Live-Action short has won numerous accolades including the Oscar-qualifying Best Narrative Short Award at SXSW Film Festival. White Eye was nominated for a 2020 Ophir Award.

Interview by Anna Harrison

Could you explain the timeline of this movie to me? When did you first get the idea, and how long did it take to get from the idea to filming to distribution?

It’s actually a very interesting story. About two years ago, I was on my way to meet my writing mentor, we were working on some short script that I wrote and was supposed to finalized it so we can send it in the night to the Makor film foundation so I can get funds. So then the story of White Eye really happened to me, I was finding myself getting late to my mentor because I was trying to get my stolen bike back after seeing it in the middle of the way. The experience was very hard and when it was all over I couldn’t think about anything else but this guy that I may just ruined his life. It took me 40 minutes to write the script and Makor film foundation supported me and finance to production that happened later that year. I guess it all happened in two years. And the most important thing is that in the real story nothing bad happened to Yunas. 

One of the most striking things about this film is that it’s filmed in one long take. Was that always the plan? Did you have to find a location that worked for the take or did the idea come after you scouted the location?

That’s a great question, the Idea to make it one shot was because this story is about a person who experiences a stressful and intense moment. Instead of acting from a rational place he gives in to an egoistic rage. Everything happens to him in a short time without a moment to stop, reconsider, breath. I wanted the same effect for the audience to really feel the main character’s situation. But between every take in a film, the viewer has a tiny little break to catch breath. I wanted the camera to connect the viewer and the main character in a never-ending, motion like tension that doesn’t give you a break. 

And about the location, I was plan to do it in a restaurant like it was in the real story and all was planned and the location for that has been chosen

But then I went to visit my friend who works in this meat factory and I saw this fridge, I felt like it’s supposed to be there. Could be a great metaphor for how society treats and threatens immigrants and refugees. To compare them to pieces of meat was something that I felt can reflect the feeling I had and wanted to give the audience. 

So doing it in one shot and around the scene in the meat fridge was my opening plan for the film. 

On a similar note, how much rehearsal did you need to prepare for the shoot? How many takes were there once on set?

We knew that everyone on the set, not just actors, every crew member on the set should have some choreography how they move when the camera starts to record.

It took us about 4 months to understand the rhythm and the movement of every person on the set because we filmed it on 360. 

And we shot the film one night and had 7 full takes. 

Were there any major script changes from conception to end? 

The script hasn’t been changed except to change the location from restaurant to a meat factory as I said. I wrote the script less than an hour after it happened and I didn’t touch it until the end. It felt like a dream that it’s so clear to you that only if you write it down the moment you’re waking up you are able to experience it in a way again.  

Would you mind talking about the ending, with Omer’s realization of what he’s done and his destruction of the bike?

I guess I wanted to emphasize how people and life are much more important than objects. I felt that after the harm was done, no one would get the bikes. Omer felt that his actions may have ruined someone else’s life and he doesn’t deserve it anymore. 

What takeaways do you want the audience to walk away with after seeing the film?

We constantly meet immigrants with different social status in our everyday life but people do not always act in a way that can keep up with their actual ethical beliefs. Often this behavior stays unnoticed and life just goes on. White Eye shows the audience these social differences and reminds everyone of their privilege. 

What’s your favorite memory from the making of this film?

Making White Eye was full of amazing and also very hard moments. 

We planned it so hard and had money to make it only in one night. 

We started at 4:30pm when it got dark and until midnight we couldn’t complete one full take from the beginning to the end. People around got frustrated. But I knew that my main job is to make them believe. So we took a break and It’s just filled me with new positive energy. I think everyone felt it and I felt how I changed the atmosphere and the morale of the team in a short moment. After the break we started again and completed a full take. Everyone celebrated and we saw it was possible. From midnight till 4am we made 7 full takes and it felt amazing to see how everything you were working on the last year was getting life. 

It is a really dreamy unique moment that you see how all this suffering is worth it for this short moment that was captured with camera and became immortality.  

You can also read Anna’s capsule review of White Eye or you can follow more of Anna’s work on Letterboxd and her website

Capsule Review: White Eye

Tomer Shushan’s White Eye has screened at over 70 film festivals, including 23 Oscar-qualifying. This Live-Action short has won numerous accolades including the Oscar-qualifying Best Narrative Short Award at SXSW Film Festival. White Eye was nominated for a 2020 Ophir Award.

Written by Anna Harrison

85/100

Tomer Shushan’s film White Eye is a feast for, well, the eyes (and the ears with its excellent sound design). Shot all in one take, White Eye tracks Omer (Daniel Gad) as he attempts to retrieve his bike, which he believes has been stolen by Yunes (Dawit Tekelaeb), an Eritrean immigrant to Israel. What follows is a simple story told with deftness and precision and lingers long after the credits roll.

White Eye’s long take ensures that we follow Omer every step of the way as this unfolds in real time: we watch him call the police, walk across the street to ask for help, uncover a group of migrants hiding from the police in a freezer. We don’t get a rest as the tension builds about what Omer will do, but instead are forced to watch as the film builds to its inevitable but no less affecting conclusion. The shot takes us through the dark streets of Tel Aviv, where people lounge about and the same prostitute wanders in the background looking for customers, to a bright, sterile meatpacking facility, its harsh lights contrasted with the outside. Shushan makes sure our eyes would never want to leave the screen, even though the story flags in places.

The premise is simple and the scope small, which in many ways makes White Eye more effective than an overblown feature might be. It’s simply about people navigating a world that changes vastly depending on what social strata you belong in. While the technical prowess might overshadow the script itself at times, White Eye remains a powerful story about the precarious situation of immigrants where countries only pretend to accept them with welcome arms, but in reality have a knife behind their back. 

You can also read Anna’s Interview with the Tomer Shushan the Director of White Eye or you can follow more of Anna’s work on Letterboxd and her website

Interview: Pier-Philippe Chevigny Writer/Director/Editor Talks About His Short Film ‘Rebel’

Director Pier-Phillippe Chevigny’s Rebel was inspired by true events. When thousands of illegal immigrants flooded into Canada from the US in 2017,  Quebec’s right-wing groups went on the attack. This live-action short film has been selected for numerous world-class festivals including TIFF, Busan, Regard, Namur, and Vladivostok. It has won numerous awards including the Audience Award at DC Shorts, Best Short Film Award at the Tirana International Film Festival, and the Golden Spike Award for Best Short Film at the Social World Film Festival.

Interview by Anna Harrison

Could you explain the timeline of this movie to me? When did you first get the idea, and how long did it take to get from the idea to filming to distribution?

I started toying with the idea in early 2017 when Quebec was just starting to see a significant rise in right-wing extremism. By August 2017, Quebec was hit with a migrant surge: thousands of refugees started fleeing the US after the Temporary Protected Status was suspended, most of whom came to Quebec by “illegally” crossing the border by foot. I wrote the script to REBEL while those events were unfolding and we applied for funding in the fall of that year. The film was greenlit and shot in the fall of 2018, it was completed in late Spring of 2019, and had its premiere at TIFF in September 2019. So about two years and a half from the first research effort to the world premiere. 

Were there any major script changes from conception to end?

In the original script, the refugees were envisioned as coming from Haiti, as at the time of writing, an overwhelming majority of people crossing the border into Quebec came from that country. When we auditioned actors for the role, since there is not a large community of Haitian actors in Montreal, we opened up the call to people from anywhere. We did group auditions and these two Persian actors, Amir Nakhjavani and Baharan Bani Ahmadi, came together for theirs and were absolutely spectacular. So we rewrote the roles to accommodate them. Other than that, the script is pretty close to the final film.

The film explicitly mentions Trump in its opening. What effects has he had in Canada, in your opinion? Did his rise influence the creation of the film?

Definitely. The main inspiration for REBEL is the 2017 migrant surge, which was directly caused by the Trump administration’s decision to suspend the TPS. REBEL wants to challenge the perception that Canada is devoid of racism, but it also aims to depict the very serious international consequences of American policies. The American Alt-Right movement in general also had a very strong influence on the rise of right-wing extremism in Quebec. Ever since the migrant crisis in 2017, we started seeing these very organized right-wing militia groups in Quebec, similar to the Proud Boys and other such groups in the States, getting a lot of mainstream media attention and becoming more and more active: that was a completely new phenomenon to us, the likes of which we had never seen before. Alexandre Bissonnette, the terrorist from the Quebec City Mosque shootings in 2017 was also a very enthusiastic Trump supporter. So yes, of course… “When America sneezes, Canada catches a cold”.

What made you decide to show the events depicted in the film through the eyes of a child? How did you approach these issues with Édouard-B. Larocque?

In the summer of 2017, there was a big right-wing rally in Quebec City organized by right-wing militia group La Meute. The very next day, one of how national newspapers had for its front page the picture of a very young boy who was waving a flag with La Meute’s logo on it. I thought to myself: that kid has no idea what the politics are being the whole movement, he’s obviously just following his parents. And I thought it’d be interesting to tell a story of right-wing extremism through the eyes of a child who doesn’t understand what it’s really about. Who doesn’t see it as “bad” or “evil”, because he is being raised inside the movement and never gets to question it. And have that kid witness something that triggers his understanding of the movement. Then put the audience in the very same headspace as him, and have them experience that “moment of realization” simultaneously. That’s what REBEL is about, which is why at first, the camera movements and framing are somewhat confusing. There’s no establishing shots, you don’t know where you are, the militia groups are hidden in the background, out-of-focus: just like the character, you’re oblivious to what’s really going on. And then, when the boy starts understanding the situation, it becomes much more edited, you get to look all around you and, finally, you also catch on to what’s really going on in those woods.

Édouard was very young when we auditioned it, he was barely six years old. Of course, he didn’t understand what the politics behind the film were either, but he did connect emotionally with the migrant family’s perspective. Deep down, the film is about empathy, and he understood that. He was surprisingly mature for his age and directing him in those scenes was actually quite easy. I also worked with an excellent acting coach, Ariane Castellanos, whose presence was invaluable.

Oftentimes, it’s easy to paint extreme right-wingers like those in the film as evil, but even though these characters do despicable things, they are empathetic in many ways: love for their children, friendship with each other, etc. Was it difficult to humanize them?

To be honest, that was mostly the result of my research. When I started getting interested in Quebec’s right-wing militia groups, I found out that its members weren’t exactly the neo-nazi skinheads I expected: they were actually normal people, with families and decent jobs. They were family guys and soccer moms, they brought their kids along to demonstrations…  And that’s what made it so frightening: there is nothing surprising about seeing skinheads march against immigration, but when everyday normal people start joining such radical movements, that’s a clear signal to me that something is wrong. I wanted REBEL to show that precisely, with seemingly decent parents doing despicable things such as taking their kids along to a migrant hunt like it’s some kind of family-friendly outing. As absurd and disconnected with reality as these characters seemed when I wrote the script as an anticipation piece three years ago, recent events show that we’re unfortunately not that far off…

What takeaways do you want the audience to walk away with after seeing the film?

I, for one, certainly wanted to raise awareness on the rise of right-wing extremism, which people really didn’t take that seriously when I made the film. But I also wanted to show a glimmer of hope. The ending is meant as a way to say that, while we may not be able to fix those issues right now, I have faith in the next generation’s ability to overcome our problems. 

What’s your favorite snack on set?

I’m usually so focused I forget to eat. Coffee!

Rebel Full Short Film

Rebel is currently available for free on Vimeo

You can also read Anna’s capsule review of Rebel or you can follow more of Anna’s work on Letterboxd and her website

Capsule Review: Rebel

Director Pier-Phillippe Chevigny’s Rebel was inspired by true events. When thousands of illegal immigrants flooded into Canada from the US in 2017,  Quebec’s right-wing groups went on the attack. This live-action short film has been selected for numerous world-class festivals including TIFF, Busan, Regard, Namur, and Vladivostok. It has won numerous awards including the Audience Award at DC Shorts, Best Short Film Award at the Tirana International Film Festival, and the Golden Spike Award for Best Short Film at the Social World Film Festival.

Written by Anna Harrison

    80/100

Rebel is set in Quebec and directed by Canadian filmmaker Pier-Philippe Chevigny, yet within the first thirty seconds, Donald Trump gets name dropped on the radio as the announcer rattles off the number of migrants fleeing to Canada instead of risking deportation under Trump. People much smarter than I have analyzed the rise of right-wing extremism in relation to Trump, but Rebel takes that threat and makes it frighteningly real—and this film was made long before we watched a group of right-wing terrorists storm the Capitol Building. 

Rebel traces a day in the life of Alex (Édouard-B. Larocque), a six-year-old whose father, Dave (Émile Schneider), takes him along to a gathering with his buddies. Dave seems like a good father, affectionate towards his son even if he may be a little rough around the edges. However, as the film progresses, we learn that Dave and his friends belong to a right-wing militia group who are conducting a hunt to smoke out some of the migrants the radio mentioned earlier. 

What started out as sweet slowly unravels as we watch Alex get exposed to the dangerous mindset and beliefs of his father; where the camera started only focusing on Alex with very few cuts or editing, leaving viewers in the dark, as Alex begins to see the darkness of his father’s deeds, the camera movements expand and we begin to see the full extent of the situation alongside Alex.

This all makes the film very compelling, even though some of its plot points might need a bit more explanation. Rebel serves as a chilling reminder of the growing right-wing extremism not only from the United States, but which the U.S. and Trump have certainly emboldened; fortunately, the film ends on a hopeful note for young Alex, suggesting a way to overcome this one day. I hope Chevigny is right.

Rebel Full Short Film

Rebel is currently available for free on Vimeo

You can also read Anna’s Interview with Pier-Philippe Chevigny or you can follow more of Anna’s work on Letterboxd and her website

Interview: Sophia Banks Talks About Directing Short Film ‘Proxy’

Sophia Banks’s short film Proxy focuses on a woman who gets more than she bargained for in her life of work. Proxy has screened at multiple the Oscar-qualifying film festivals including HollyShorts Film Festival, Lone Star Film Festival, Louisville International Festival of Film, and Los Angeles Lift-Off Film Festival.  

Interview by Anna Harrison

Could you explain the timeline of this movie to me? When did you first get the idea, and how long did it take to get from the idea to filming to distribution?

Last year, some good friends of mine, Dominick Joseph Luna and Emma Booth and I were chatting and realized that they were coming to LA where I was living at the time. We always had wanted to do a project together but never found the right time or place to do it. Dominick had some great concepts he pulled from research and one of them was based off of the idea of boutique services they’re offering in Japan right now: “people for hire” that could stand in for someone to fulfill a role. I loved the idea and we developed the story. Once they arrived in LA we decided to just go for it. We put together the team in a few short weeks and shot it over the last day of February and the first day of March, just before the lockdown hit. We were really fortunate to have gotten it done just before because we were able to complete the editing and the rest of post production remotely, which worked really well.

Were there any major script changes from conception to end?

Funny enough, there weren’t too many changes that we made. We really stuck with the original vision, which was to showcase Victoria (Booth) as this woman who is struggling with her own disconnect and internal turmoil as she is being beaten down emotionally and physically through these increasingly terrifying scenarios. 

Performance is a big theme throughout your film, especially with regards to gender, sex, and the intersection of those. Would you mind talking a bit more about that and how you discuss those ideas in your film?

I think that I always like to touch on those because underlying these stories I like to tell is the underlying idea of “freedom”. In Proxy, Victoria faces the entrapment of a job that she feels obligated to do, put in situations thrown at her that she may or may not agree with — but she has to do it, it is her job after all. The journey she goes through is eye opening in that I hope others might take away from it a little semblance of what our hero experiences: the heroes own self realization and expression of that truth. 

What were the biggest challenges in creating a slightly futuristic world that still needed to feel familiar? Did you ever consider making it “harder” sci-fi?

It is interesting because for my first short film Unregistered, I really heavily designed and created an entirely futuristic world. We have over 300 special effects in that short film that I put a lot of thought into it. It was unmistakable that it was in fact set in a future Dystopian society. 

For Proxy, we wanted it to be more grounded — almost impossible to know whether this was 10 years or 50 years into the future. I think it adds to that ominous factor. 

What takeaways do you want the audience to walk away with after seeing the film?

I partly see Proxy as a cautionary tale: the more connected we are the further we grow apart in reality. That is what social media is to me. I also see it as a message of rebellion of what society has seen as the “new norm”. We are so afraid to go against the grain, we are comfortable with a routine. Sometimes we need to take a step back and perhaps come to terms with the fact that the “norm” may not be the best for us. 

What are your top three sci-fi films from the last decade or so?

Hard question! I would have to lean into the “or so” since I am a huge fan of the classic Sci-Fi such as Blade Runner, (2001: A) Space Odyssey and The Thing as well as Alien. I like the darker side of sci-fi for sure.

You can also read Anna’s capsule review of Proxy or you can follow more of Anna’s work on Letterboxd and her website