Friday, September 29, 2023
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Cannes 2023 – Special Issue

Indie Entertainment Media is proud to unveil its 2023 Cannes special issue, featuring a story on this year’s Jury President Ruben Östlund by Lena Basse, an exclusive interview with Bobby Colomby and John Scheinfeld on the new documentary What The Hell Happened To Blood, Sweat & Tears?, a piece about the legacy of the Festival de Cannes by Claude Brickell, a spotlight on FilmHedge founder Jon Gosier, an event recap of Jonathan Baker’s annual Oscar  soirée, interviews with Global Entertainment Showcase panelists Diana Madison, Chadwick Pelletier and Viviane Winthrop; filmmaker Danny A. Abeckaser’s  Marché du Film offerings, the official program of the fifth annual French Riviera Film Festival, and much more. And, we simply adore our original cover artwork by New York artist Cindy Shaoul. See you on the Croisette!

– Nicole Goesseringer Muj, Editor-In-Chief

Oscars 2023 Special Edition

IEM’s 2023 Academy Awards Issue is themed “Elvis is Oscar,” featuring a front cover and photo essay celebrating the King of Rock ‘n Roll, starring Jonathan Baker and Dustin Quick. with photographs by Eric Minh Swenson and Tshombe Sampson. The issue also features an interview with Oscar nominee Cate Blanchett by Lena Basse; interviews by yours truly with nominees Kim Magnusson (Ivalu), Cyrus Neshvad (The Red Suitcase), and EO producer Eileen Tasca; a special tribute to iconic actor Paul Sorvino, an editorial by Claude Brickell titled ‘My Policeman: Linear vs. Non-Linear Storytelling’; and a spotlight on legendary fashion designer Sue Wong’s recent party to unveil her Palazzo Marrakesh. We hope you enjoy!

– Nicole Goesseringer Muj, Editor-in-Chief. IEM

Indie Entertainment Media – Oscars 2022 Special Edition

Oscar is alive and well, and this year…. she’s a woman! IEM’s awards issue showcases the “Oscar is a Woman”-themed cover photo shoot featuring Hollywood director/producer Jonathan Baker and international model Erika Stasiuleviciute. Baker has opened his mansion doors once again this year for his annual viewing soirée, collaborating with IEM and French Riviera Film Festival. Also in the issue is an exclusive interview with Danish director Martin Strange-Hansen, nominated for his live action short film “On My Mind,” a sneak peek at artist’s Eva Lanska’s new installation “The Existential Choice,” and a feature by Claude Brickell on architect to the stars Paul R. Williams. The issue also highlights the Women Filmmakers Showcase event taking place on the afternoon before the big day. The event features Morgan Dameron, Anna Fishbeyn, Peggy McCartha, Tracy Vicory-Rosenquest and Dee Wallace, with award-winning filmmaker Sue Vicory as moderator.

– Editor-In-Chief, Nicole Goesseringer Muj

Indie Entertainment Media – Sundance Film Festival 2022 Special Edition

Friends, I’m delighted to unveil our annual Park City festival edition of Indie Entertainment Media. The issue honors some of those talented individuals we sadly lost recently, including a bittersweet article by Lena Basse about her friend  Jean-Marc Vallée, exclusive interviews with NY-based artist Cindy Shaoul and Vietnamese-American director  Mai Thu Huyen, a photo essay spotlighting Las Vegas by Eric Minh Swenson, a feature on the new film Cyrano by Dr. Laura Wilhelm, Claude Brickell’s wisdom on scriptwriting, and of course, our annual  Après-ski gift guide. Also featured are the wonderful participants of the 5th annual Indie Entertainment Showcase that will be held virtually on Saturday, January 22 at 11 am MT/ 10 am PT.  

– Editor-In-Chief, Nicole Muj

Indie Entertainment Magazine Cannes Film Festival 2019 Edition

La main au collet, TO CATCH A THIEF, de AlfredHitchcock avec Cary Grant, Grace Kelly, 1955 (sur la Cote d'Azur, french riviera) Swimsuit Swimming shorts

Indie Entertainment Magazine is pleased to unveil its second annual special Cannes Film Festival Edition. Print edition to be distributed throughout Cannes.
Here’s a sneak peek:

Indie Entertainment Magazine – Sundance Film Festival 2019

John Cho attends the Kia Supper Suite | Photo by Thomas Concordia/Getty Images for Kia)

A sneak peek at the special digital edition of Indie Entertainment Magazine | Sundance Edition 2019.

Valuing Writers in the AI Renaissance: A Call for Fair Compensation

by Christina Zhu-Weaver, Chief Strategy and Fun Officer at Robosen Robotics

Amid the rapid advancements of artificial intelligence, a pivotal dialogue emerges, focused on the ethics and equity of AI development. At the heart of these discussions, one critical question often lingers in the shadows: should we provide rightful compensation to the writers and creators whose imaginative works form the foundation of AI system training?

AI for Humanity: Insights from Hollywood Writers
In a recent enlightening conversation with a distinguished group of Hollywood writers, I had the opportunity to uncover a few profound insights on this question. Our discourse delved deep into the core of AI’s potential, its intricate interplay with human thought and creativity, and the necessity to reward content creators equitably for their roles.

Writer Ron Friedman, celebrated for his contributions to animated television shows such as G.I. Joe, The Transformers, and the Marvel Action Hour, featuring beloved American superheroes like the X-Men, Iron Man, Fantastic Four, and Spider-Man, had a great deal to say in this discussion. Friedman viewed content creators as essential partners in AI, contributors who deserved compensation for their efforts. “If we grasp the concept of AI as an extension and expansion of human thought, for which we must supply the heart, pulse, emotion, morality, and philosophy as co-equal working partners …I firmly believe we all shall prosper mightily and do universal good, if we recognize our eternal interdependence and play fair.”

Friedman’s sagacious words encapsulate the essence of AI’s potential in the service of humanity. This vision underscores the imperative of aligning AI with human values and principles, fostering mutual prosperity and the pursuit of universal good.

Christina Zhu-Weaver and Ron Friedman

Acknowledging the Unseen Contributors
I stand behind Friedman and fellow content creators. Writers, poets, and content creators occupy a pivotal role in shaping the datasets upon which AI models are constructed. Whether providing text for natural language processing models, scripting dialogues for chatbots, or contributing content for algorithms, human-generated textual data serves as the lifeblood of AI training. Unfortunately, these creators often remain in obscurity, their toil and creativity exploited without due recognition or remuneration.

It is not uncommon for AI developers to scour the vast expanses of the internet for publicly available textual data, including books, articles, and websites, to train their models. However, the ready availability of such data does not diminish the sweat, time, and talent invested by the original creators. Each word written, each story woven, and each idea articulated, embodies a piece of intellectual property deserving of respect.

Constructing the Argument for Compensation
● Recognition of Intellectual Property: Writing, akin to any form of creative expression, constitutes intellectual property. Authors and content creators deserve acknowledgment and compensation when their work contributes to the training of AI models. This reflects the fundamental principles of copyright and intellectual property rights.

● Fairness and Ethics: Equitably remunerating writers and creators transcends mere legal obligations; it is a moral imperative. Offering fair compensation for their invaluable contributions upholds the ethical standards we should aspire to in AI development.

● Incentives for Excellence: Compensating writers for their role in AI training data
creation fosters incentives for the generation of high-quality, well-researched, and precise
content. The knowledge that their efforts will be justly rewarded encourages creators to
share their invaluable contributions.

● Supporting the Creative Community: The creative community, encompassing writers and content creators, constitutes an indispensable facet of our society and culture. Acknowledging their contributions through compensation for AI training data offers vital financial sustenance to this community.

The Call for Legislative Action
In addition to recognizing the vital importance of equitable compensation, we must champion legislative action. Collaborative efforts between Congress and interested parties should result in the updating of existing laws to safeguard the intellectual property rights of writers in the ever-evolving AI landscape. This encompasses revisiting copyright laws, delineating explicit guidelines for the protection of intellectual property within AI training data, and establishing equitable compensation standards adaptable to diverse AI applications and industries.

Charting a Path Forward
Amid our exploration of AI’s transformative potential, we must not lose sight of the writers and creators whose words and creativity propel this technological revolution. The time has come to wholeheartedly recognize their invaluable contributions and ensure they receive just compensation. Advocating for the equitable remuneration of writers whose works underpin AI development transcends the realm of mere fairness; it embodies a commitment to the principles of creativity, reverence for intellectual property, and ethical AI advancement. This approach guides us toward a future where innovation and AI coexist harmoniously, benefiting both creators and the broader AI community, ultimately serving the greater good of humanity.

Christina Zhu-Weaver is the Chief Strategy and Fun Officer at Robosen Robotics, an innovative AI and robotics company celebrated for its groundbreaking work in entertainment and companion robots. In collaboration with industry giants like Hasbro and Disney, Robosen Robotics has introduced revolutionary creations, including the world’s first AutoTransforming Transformers Optimus Prime, Grimlock, and interactive Buzz Lightyear – beloved American superheroes and characters. The company’s mission is to bring happiness to humanity while driving innovation in the entertainment industry.

Christina’s diverse career spans corporate leadership, venture capital, startups, and bridging connections between the US and Asian markets. Her extensive experience has honed her ability to identify strategic opportunities and navigate complex business landscapes. In 2016, during the early days of the Electric Vehicle industry and in anticipation of the direction of cleantech, Christina demonstrated her visionary thinking as a strategic advisor by championing a proposal for a strategic partnership between Tesla and a major Chinese automotive manufacturing city. The proposal introduced a pioneering model termed the “Three Networks” (comprising the smart grid, intelligent charging stations, and an intelligent transportation network) and “One Car (utilizing Tesla cars as data sensors)” ecosystem, featuring diversified revenue streams. This forward-thinking initiative not only aligned with China’s sustainability goals and Tesla’s mission for sustainable transport but also laid the foundation for the future development of AI-empowered autonomous driving.

Christina is an alumna of Stanford Graduate School of Business and a graduate of the Stanford Executive Program. She holds multiple securities licenses, including Series 63, 7, and 79 Securities, and is a licensed CPA in both New York and California. Beyond her role at Robosen Robotics, Christina serves as the President of the California Software Professional Association and co-founded Y-Labs, a non-profit youth business accelerator dedicated to nurturing entrepreneurship among underrepresented youth in America. She is also a cultural broker and has hosted and moderated numerous national and four international summits. She enjoys working at the intersection of technology and business, having earned a bachelor’s degree in computer science and a master’s degree in business. In addition, Christina’s deep appreciation for cultural diversity in America stems from living with her family in various parts of the US, including Arkansas, Texas, New York, and Washington. She now calls Silicon Valley her home, where she resides with her technologist husband and two children.

French Contemporary Artist Philippe Shangti’s Los Angeles Debut Marks A Triumph

French contemporary artist and photographer Philippe Shangti made his Los Angeles debut on September 14, with a 25-piece solo art exhibition featuring the artist’s striking photographic works. More than 300 art enthusiasts and collectors, celebrities, influencers, and media joined the internationally acclaimed artist in celebration of his West Coast premiere event.

Video by Eric Minh Swenson

Shangti’s work serves as a poignant commentary on the intricacies of our modern society. He is renowned for his ability to capture societal flaws and human behavior and is now one of the art world’s leading photographers and contemporary artists of his generation.

Among the guests at the exclusive by-invitation-only event, held at Andaz Hotel in West Hollywood, was Selling the OC star, Polly Brindle, a devoted fan of Shangti’s work, who went home with an original masterpiece by the artist, as well as curator Kipton Cronkite, director Len Wiseman with fiancée model CJ Franco, director Sebastian Siegal, art consultant and collector Celesta Hodge, TV personality Mark Mester, Ryan Krause, Olga and Isa Joney, and more.

(L-R) Philippe Shangti and ‘Selling the OC’ star Polly Brindle (Photo by Jon Kopaloff/Getty Images for Philippe Shangti)

Featured works in the exhibit, that runs until September 30th, include the photograph “Luxury Fifth Dinner,” a captivating installment from The Luxury Dinner series. The artwork delves into the themes of opulence and excess, encouraging viewers to question the allure of materialism and societal obsession with appearances.

Another photograph featured is “Ultimate Luxury Envy,” part of Shangti’s most recent collection “SEVEN,” which reconceptualizes the seven deadly sins. The “Ultimate Luxury Envy” explores the corrosive nature of envy. Through the depiction of a goddess and a majestic peacock, Shangti aims to highlight the destructive consequences of jealousy. By juxtaposing symbols of desire and beauty, he prompts viewers to consider the impact of envy on both individual and collective behavior.

Shangti comments, “You have seven sins all within you…. and need to balance all the sins inside you… success of life is the balance of sins, and to understand this.”

(Photo by Jon Kopaloff/Getty Images for Philippe Shangti)

Also in the exhibit are several signed ‘tag’ works such as the famous “Live Your Fucking Best Life” and “If You Don’t Think I’m The Boss Get Out,” a series of works presenting a unique fusion of contemporary art and the visual language of graffiti. Shangti explores the idea of freedom of expression and raw creativity with short, provocative phrases, evoking a story, an emotion, or a claim.

(Photo by Jon Kopaloff/Getty Images for Philippe Shangti)

Today, Shangti resides in Andorra (a small principality situated between France and Spain in the Pyrenees), where he is close to his family, and has a thriving creative workshop, where he has a team of 15. In fact, when he first discovered Andorra, located between the mountains, he claims it was for him a “coup de coeur” (love at first site). Previously he lived for 10 years in Saint-Tropez, where he describes the lifestyle as “very intense.” Before art, he was involved with the concept development for restaurants and nightclubs. The famous L’Opera was his concept, and today his artwork is exhibited there. During the event, we also spoke about the artist’s chance meeting in Monaco with David Guetta, who commissioned one of the artist’s works. Today, they are good friends.

(Photo by Jon Kopaloff/Getty Images for Philippe Shangti )

Shangti’s diverse portfolio spans limited edition sculptures, conceptual artworks, and captivating photographs. Exhibited across esteemed galleries in Europe and the USA, his art invites us to engage in meaningful reflection and dialogue about the complexities of our world. He also creates special works featuring sports personalities, collectors, and their families, and collaborates with many luxury brands as part of the development of a range of products inspired by his art.

Known as an atypical messenger of modern times, Shangti participated in La Biennale di Venezia 2019 – The 58th International Art Exhibition titled May You Live In Interesting Times – recognized for being one of the most prestigious artistic shows in the world. His work is also exhibited in numerous Fine Art Museums and Galleries in France and abroad: Geneva, London, New York, Los Angeles, Miami, Ibiza, Amsterdam, Paris, and Saint-Tropez.

‘Time For Change’ Concert featuring Annie Lennox Rocks The Colosseum in Rome

On September 10th, Annie Lennox, Mahmood, Oscar-winning composer Nicola Piovani, sculptor Jago, and many more came together at the Colosseum in Rome to take part in the ‘Time For Change’ concert. The event directly benefited Rotary International and the End Polio Now campaign – the organization’s long-standing project to eradicate polio worldwide. The evening featured a breathtaking musical concert, including moments of dance, interpretation, and pure spectacle with some of the most prominent personalities in the Italian and international cultural scene.

Photo Credit: Alice Mastinu for Illiric

Giuseppe Bonifati Stars Alongside Adam Driver and Penelope Cruz in “Ferrari,” Set To Premiere At Venice Film Festival

Rising star on the international entertainment scene, Italian actor of Calabrian descent, Giuseppe Bonifati is among the cast members of Ferrari, which will have its world premiere at the upcoming Venice Film Festival. The film, directed by Michael Mann, will be released in U.S. theaters on December 25, 2023. Bonifati plays Giacomo Cuoghi, a friend and colleague of Enzo Ferrari, the entrepreneur who created the iconic automobile. The film stars Adam Driver as Enzo Ferrari and Penelope Cruz as his wife, Laura Ferrari.

Bonifati comments the experience on set was “enriching, I would almost say a master class, where I was able to work with a director who is meticulous about every detail: the posture, the tension of a gesture or how to grasp an object in a way that is not obvious. It is also admirable that Michael Mann was able to make a film that he had wanted to make for at least 20 years.”

The cast of Ferrari also includes Shailene Woodley, Patrick Dempsey, Jack O’Connell, Sarah Gadon and Gabriel Leone. The screenplay, co-written by Mann and Troy Kennedy Martin, was inspired by Brock Yates’ book Enzo Ferrari – The Man and the Machine. Set in 1957, the story interweaves Ferrari’s personal life with his racing life, including the tragic Mille Miglia of that year, marked by Alfonso De Portago’s accident and the threat of bankruptcy.  

Ferrari Courtesy of MovieStillsDB

Bonifati previously worked on Ridley Scott’s All the Money In The World and a BBC US series with Tom Hollander. Among his most original recent projects, after The Arty Party and Artbulanza, is Det Flyvende Teater/The Flying Theater.

All The Money In The World

“It is a unique format in the world, which started as a two-year pilot project at Billund Airport (Denmark),” he explains. “Since last February, we have even set up a studio theater. With our crew of actors, singers and dancers, we interact like an airline with passengers from all over the world. We surprise them with unique artistic experiences: performances and works at gates, terminals and baggage claim. There are events such as theater or dance performances in the hangars. Recently, one of our special versions of Anton Chekhov’s opera The Seagull was performed.”

Flying Theater is also presented in hangars at other national and international airports and festivals, including Timisoara, the European capital of culture, and will tour several countries in Scandinavia this fall, with plans to continue in Europe and Italy next year.

Bonifati is currently working on his directorial debut, a film set between Denmark and Calabria, titled Revenge is a Dish Best Served Cold, a contemporary film inspired by the tragedy of Hamlet.

Generation Iron & The Vladar Company Acquire Documentary “Driven: The Tony Pearson Story” For Worldwide Distribution/ Debut Set for October 6th

Generation Iron, the premier New York City-based global digital media company focused on health, fitness, bodybuilding and strength sports and its distribution/production partner The Vladar Company have acquired worldwide distribution rights for the award-winning, feature documentary Driven: The Tony Pearson Story.

Winner of the Grand Prize, Best Documentary Feature at the 2023 Golden State Film Festival, the documentary is set to premiere on major streaming platforms in all English language speaking territories, including Apple, Amazon, Google Play and VUDU, on October 6, 2023.

Driven: The Tony Pearson Story details the life and career of legendary bodybuilder Tony Pearson, documenting the abuse he suffered as a child and overcame, his eventual journey to Los Angeles, and his incredible career in bodybuilding. The film follows Tony as returns to the stage in Las Vegas, at 63 years old, for one last competition.

“Generation Iron and The Vladar Company are widely known for their original productions in the health and sports genre,” comments Edwin Mejia Jr, co-founder and head of content, Generation Iron. “We also occasionally acquire high quality content for distribution. When we first discovered Driven: The Tony Pearson Story, we immediately wanted to share Tony’s incredible and inspiring life story with our extensive network of passionate fans of fitness, sports and bodybuilding.”

Tony Pearson first came to California at the age of 19 with only 75 dollars to his name. At the world famous Muscle Beach, Arnold Schwarzenegger saw Tony training and encouraged him to pursue his dream of becoming a champion. Tony went on to become a legend in the bodybuilding community, winning multiple titles over four decades in the AAU, WBBG, WABBA, IFBB and NABBA organizations all over the world. He has been featured in fitness and lifestyle magazines around the globe and has made many television appearances over the years. In 2020, Tony came out of retirement for one last competition.

The film’s official trailer is also available now:

“The whole team is thrilled to present this documentary that dives deep into the extraordinary life of Tony Pearson, a true icon of the golden era of bodybuilding. This film, based on Tony’s own memoir, not only chronicles his remarkable career in the world of bodybuilding but also sheds light on the profound challenges he overcame during his harsh upbringing in the Deep South. ‘Driven’ is a story that exemplifies the extraordinary power of resilience and determination, and transcends the confines of the sport to inspire audiences worldwide,” comments the film’s director Andrew Menjivar, founder of Tequila Mockingbird Productions.

“Partnering with Generation Iron to release this documentary adds an exciting dimension to the project. Their dedication to showcasing the best of bodybuilding aligns perfectly with our mission to honor Tony’s legacy and showcase his journey to a global audience. I think this collaboration will bring Tony’s story to the forefront of the bodybuilding community and beyond, reminding us that the human spirit can conquer adversity and achieve greatness,” adds Menjivar.

The film also features commentary by Fabio, with whom Tony trained and competed early on, American actor James Maslow (Big Time Rush), the late Eric P. Fleishman (a.k.a. Eric the Trainer), a top Hollywood fitness expert and ambassador for Celebrity Sweat and Gold’s Gym, and celebrity chef and military veteran Andre Rush, among others.

Widely known for its films in the fitness and strength sports space, Generation Iron’s top titles include Generation IronThe Hurt BusinessRonnie Coleman: The KingandJeremy Scott: The People’s Designer.

About Tony Pearson – Tony Pearson is a luminary of the 1980s bodybuilding scene whose legacy continues to inspire to this day. Renowned for his exceptional shoulder-to-waist ratio, Pearson’s physical prowess stands as a testament to the pinnacle of the sport’s aesthetics. Often likened to the iconic Michael Jackson, his presence transcends muscle, exuding an electrifying charm that captivated audiences worldwide.

With over three decades of dedication, Pearson’s impact on bodybuilding is undeniable. His accolades include the prestigious NABBA Pro Mr. Universe and the esteemed WBBG Mr. World titles. Beyond the accolades, his sculpted form graced the covers of revered magazines, becoming a visual anthem of his dedication and achievement.

Yet, beneath the triumphs lies a story of transformation. Pearson’s foray into bodybuilding emerged from a harrowing childhood marked by unimaginable abuse inflicted by his own Aunt, who became his guardian at a very young age. Bodybuilding became his refuge, not only offering an escape but a path to reclaim his life. Tony Pearson’s journey encapsulates the resilience of the human spirit, turning scars into strength and sculpting a legacy that extends far beyond the stage.

Generation Iron is a leading New York City based global digital media company, publishing health, fitness, bodybuilding, strength sports, MMA/Boxing news and content to millions of readers worldwide. Generation Iron today is the leading original content producer of Strength Sports, Bodybuilding, Fitness and MMA content. The company is co-founded by Edwin Mejia Jr. and Vlad Yudin.

Generation Iron today is dedicated to making the highest quality series, films and shows aimed at educating and entertaining fans and athletes. Today, Generation Iron has a catalogue of over 30 titles and in depth docu-series which have built the backbone of its original programming.

The Vladar Company is a media and entertainment company that focuses on developing, producing, and distributing a library of intellectual media properties. The company has become a leading producer and distributor of niche sports content genres and multiple mediums in US and international markets, while also expanding into acquiring and distributing high quality content.

En Trance Films Unveils Official Poster for The Company of Thieves

Revisionist Western Feature by Filmmaker Viduran Roopan to Begin Festival Run in Early 2024

En Trance Films has released the official poster for the upcoming feature, The Company of Thieves, the announcement was made today by company founder Viduran Roopan.

Filmmaker Roopan’s first feature film, the ‘revisionist Western’* will premiere on the festival circuit early next year. The film stars Tony Noto (1923, Pam & Tommy, Flight 704), and Hunter C. Smith (Lucky) and international actress and opera singer Naomi Helen Weissberg (Into the Wild Frontier).

“First and foremost, I created The Company of Thieves to be a fun and thought-provoking adventure film,” comments Roopan. “My goal was to use familiar Western tropes and shooting styles as well as emerging in-camera VFX technology to drive the narrative forward in new and visually striking ways.”

The film challenges the themes found in traditional Westerns, and focuses heavily on how happiness is defined and how the institutions that govern us convince us that attaining material goals like fame, fortune, power or even revenge, will satisfy our hunger for purpose or meaning.

“I think the separation between society and the natural world perpetuates this disillusionment,” says Roopan. “We are products of our environment, after all. Not the other way around.”

The hypnotic film was shot in 21 days over seven months in California, Arizona and Nevada, featuring beautiful cinematic locations including South Lake Tahoe, Landers/Joshua Tree, Pyramid Lake, Malibu Creek, Lake Piru, among others. All the interior locations were filmed at White Horse Movie Ranch. The official trailer will be unveiled soon.

“We’ve travelled to some stunningly beautiful filming locations, and got the chance to experiment with cutting edge virtual production tools and LED volume technology. I’m quite proud of what we’ve accomplished, especially for my first film, and I can’t wait to share it with the world,” adds Roopan.

Filmmaker Viduran Roopan On Set With Castmembers

Australian-American filmmaker of Sri Lankan descent, Viduran Roopan is a rising star in the world of filmmaking. With over a decade of experience in the entertainment industry, Roopan has worked primarily as a producer of documentary programming and reality television, including the series Growing Up Hip Hop (WE TV) and The Fixers.

He has also worked in the production of feature films, commercials and music videos, as well as in live events and broadcast journalism. While producer has been his main role, he has worn many hats, including those of cinematographer, editor, and production manager/coordinator. Currently, Roopan works in the Virtual Production/VFX space with a focus on the research and development of emerging LED volume technology and in-camera VFX. He uses this technology to drive the narrative forward in new and visually striking ways in his current projects.

A graduate from the University of Georgia in communication studies and new media, he honed his craft over the years as a filmmaker and content creator, producing a wide range of short films, music videos, corporate videos, commercials, and docu-series. Currently, he has three completed feature length scripts in the works and treatments for additional features, scripted TV series, and shorts.

* The revisionist Western (also called the anti-Western, sometimes revisionist anti-Western) is a sub-genre of the Western film. Called a post-classical variation of the traditional Western, the revisionist subverts the myth and romance of the traditional by means of character development and realism to present a less simplistic view of life in the “Old West”. While the traditional Western always embodies a clear boundary between good and evil, the revisionist Western does not. – Wikipedia

TIGER WITHIN: Ed Asner Roars in his Final Lead Role while Rafal Zielinski’s Direction Purrs!

By Scott Bayer

The essence of dramatic form is to let an idea come over people without it being plainly stated. When you say something directly, it’s simply not as potent as it is when you allow people to discover it for themselves.Stanley Kubrick

Tiger Within (originally completed 2020 but release delayed to 2023 due to the Pandemic), features an acting performance, by the late great Ed Asner, that’s worth the price of admission all by itself. It is a film layered and replete with duality. The 89 year old Asner plays the 90ish Samuel, a Holocaust survivor – a widower, living a lonely life in Los Angeles for who knows how long. His polar opposite counterpart Casey is a 14 year old homeless recent runaway from Ohio; post-punk post-rave, Bladerunner-ish blonde, played by Margot Josefsohn. It was Asner’s last major role. It is her first and reminiscent of Brooke Shields in the original Pretty Baby (1978). He has lost his entire family. She deliberately left hers.

Asner delivers a nuanced and restrained but powerful performance with an aura of stubborn persistence, yet with subtle shades of almost spiritual sorrow beneath the surface. Margot gives a vivacious and compelling frenetically charged portrayal of precociously, disillusioned and alienated teenage angst. Zielinski’s directorial style and production approach derives from three decades of helming commercial movies and TV films, while at the same time being an independent filmmaker who has directed several festival favorites and art house films. This extensive dual experience of mastering making movies on set, as mettier en scene, and immersing the action, in a conceptually advanced yet naturalistic and inevitable cinematic mise en scene, as an auteur, enabled Tiger Within to be delivered as a completed film for an indie type $300,000 budget, while simultaneously projecting on screen with production values and theatrical qualities matching commercial films, costing five times as much. Thematically the movie, written by Gina Wendkos – {Coyote Ugly (2000), The Princess Diaries (2001), The Perfect Man (2005)} – over 25 years ago, resonates with far greater relevance and currency today than the period of its creation, which was almost prescient. A further dichotomy that contributes to the effective impact of the film’s underlying messaging and charm of the story results from the film’s smoothly understated, but sensitive presentation of the extremely serious issues of Holocaust denial and antisemitism while raising uncomfortable realities such as homelessness and family breakdown. Still, despite its depiction of current society’s dysfunctional, often self-defeating and self-serving, almost nihilistic ‘solutions’ to such problems, Zielinski and Wendkos manage to ultimately craft an ending of hope and forgiveness. A final duality, accompanying Tiger Within, results from its approach to distribution and exhibition – throughout the art house circuit coterminously with its launch on most major streaming and VOD platforms. This strategy, which is becoming more common, should finally put the ‘theatrical window’ debate to bed, except for a small number of Hollywood type blockbusters and tent pole movies.

Our exclusive conversation with Rafal Zielinski follows:

Rafal Zielinski

SB: The concept of a TIGER WITHIN comes from the ancient Chinese?

RZ: Absolutely! Embracing the tiger, embracing your fears and having the courage to move forward – it’s a proverb that’s very powerful and very timely.

SB: Well you were certainly in touch with your tiger within, being brave (or crazy) enough to finance this film yourself!

RZ: That’s true. It’s not an obviously commercial film since it features a young teenage character and an old man who is in his eighties or nineties. The big mainstream audience that wants to see movies is considered to be from 18 to like 35. This project sort of falls outside of that. And though people loved the script, and they loved the story, no one committed. I decided I had to become my own producer. That was the only way it was going to happen. So, then I started pitching it, looking for financing, sending it all over, trying to put it together in many different ways – through foreign, through co-productions, through trying to cobble together a slate of films, private investors, you know, everything. Well, the independent film world is very complicated these days. Theatrical distribution is pretty much impossible and it’s very difficult to get people to come to the cinemas. I remember when I was beginning, I would live in the repertory cinemas, literally.

SB: Now you’ll have to try to find these non-mainstream films on some streaming service and hopefully there will finally be a scenario in which indies get a fair shake. One with reasonable revenue sharing and data transparency, from the studios and streamers, in addition to actual promotion of their films to viewers on the platforms that stream them.

I go way back with streaming. I was in charge of the multimedia section of the New York Production Guide in 1997 and was putting together the listings for streaming vendors when the owner of NYPG said to me: “We don’t need this section. Nobody streams video files – there’s not enough bandwidth. They have to download them.” And I said, “Don’t worry they will and it’ll be big.” So I’ve seen these streaming guys come along for years and they used to ask filmmakers to sell them their films for a share of the revenues based on how many people saw their work. But they didn’t have any idea of the actual numbers of viewers and where revenue was really going to come from. These people today DO have an idea. The ones in Hollywood, but they don’t want to tell. They think they can get away with not revealing who’s watching individual films after all these years. They shouldn’t be able to continue with that any longer. We’ve been like really tolerant of that, you know? But now there’s a strike going on that’s finally addressing these issues. And the studios and conglomerates are going to have to come clean. Or the writers for sure aren’t going back. We don’t want to hear, “Oh, well we took your film at a low price (because that’s the market numbers these days) and who knows how many people saw it. We thought it may have been somewhat successful, but…” So the checks, sent to the filmmakers as well as the writers and actors, are now miniscule in comparison to the residuals that they received from the traditional business of TV, cable and overseas companies.

RZ: Yeah. They’re very secretive and in this world where everything should and can be tracked. We can go on our bank’s website, you know, and see every transaction. There’s no reason this can’t be all transparent. I mean it’s all digital everywhere else already.

SB: That’s because they like having the upper hand in the relationship. They can’t do things that way any longer and get away with it. They didn’t get a totally free ride in television or movies. They have to say what the gate is, what the receipts are, what the Nielson numbers are – right? Even if they take a little off the top. They surely don’t want to deal with Uncle Sam, I would think. You know even NASA launched their own streaming service recently.

RZ: Right. Exactly. I hope the world will be changing and there will be transparency, honesty. Money is not everything. Our existence is so fleeting, why corrupt it by lying, cheating and stealing. It could haunt you for eternity, depending on your belief systems.

SB: Well, according to legendary Indie Producer Ted Hope, speaking at the Locarno Film Festival recently, that just may be “doable” if the studios are able to grasp how important the issues, which WGA & SAG/AFTRA are contesting, are to the future sustainability of the film and content creation industries (in America particularly).

Regarding transparency of data he said, “We need to own the data of the work we create. If we don’t have this, we as artists and entrepreneurs can’t course correct when we make a mistake. We can’t say we didn’t connect with an audience with this film.”

As far as our share of the pie as creators he declared, “Denying back-end participation is a violation of human rights. I think this is a place for government. Sharing in the success is an absolute necessity for what we do.” Right On, Ted!

RZ: Maybe there’s room for these boutique streaming services now. In fact, I’m just beginning my own, I am in the process of re-releasing all my art house films that I’ve directed and produced, Hey Babe! (1983), Ginger Ale Afternoon (1989), FUN (1994) which won a special Grand Jury Prize at Sundance, as well as two previously unreleased movies – Age of Kali (2005) and 1001 Nights in Bohemia (2011), and of course Tiger Within in foreign territories, in several languages. I think that hopefully they’ll attract a new audience since they haven’t dated. I go back to watch these films and they just feel so contemporary. I think maybe it’s possible.

SB: I think that for an independent filmmaker, that’s one of the things they should always try to do – make their films evergreen, vintage, classic, future proofed…

RZ: That’s right. I really try to do that. Ginger Ale Afternoon which first showed at the Sundance Film Festival, it’s timeless. You don’t sense when it’s taking place. It’s in a sort of white trash trailer park environment. And the argument that this couple has is so universal. It could be happening right now. FUN feels contemporary because the wardrobe in the prison is exactly the same. And a prison is a prison. What kids are going through today are the same issues that they were going through at the time when we made the film. These two received a limited theatrical release, but at that time there was no streaming, so these films are largely undiscovered by the mainstream audiences.

SB: At any point, no matter how much technology or newer technique you take advantage of – immersive, AI, whatever you’re putting up on the screen, it still comes down at some point in the movie to where there’s two people just talking to each other and/or fighting it out, working it out, discussing things… And that’s timeless. It goes back all the way to the Greeks and likely well before.

RZ: Yes, and showing the humanity, the pain, the joy – in search of love, in search for understanding. Transforming darkness into light. Those are themes that really interest me. And when I look at all the films that I’ve done, they’re always about misfits, rebels… lonely souls in search for love. Even in the Roger Corman films that I used to do at the beginning.

SB: I knew you directed some Roger Corman Films but I couldn’t easily tell which ones.

RZ: Yeah. Screw Balls (1983), Loose Screws (1984), Recruits (1986) and ones like National Lampoon’s: Last Resort (1994) – they’re all about misfits, rebels, outsiders, these guys who are just like on the fringes of high school or society. And they were just desperately trying to, you know, achieve their goals and fail miserably. And there was the comedy and the humor and the compassion which I seem to gravitate to. I think Tiger Within is a bit of a combination – both Ed and Margot play very lonely hearts.

SB: You also often take advantage of the Cinema Verité Documentary style in your narrative films.

RZ: My mentor Richard Leacock at MIT, where I studied Cinema Verité, filmmaking, and documentary, taught me so much that I’ve applied in all the films I’ve done. He taught us to be like the fly on the wall and not to interfere with real life. Let life live and breathe in front of your camera and you just disappear. And I’ve used that in a lot of my films, especially in this one, Tiger Within, where I really wanted to just let the magic flow – let these actors pour themselves out. Let’s see their pain and I think it really worked because it amplified their performance. I did that also in FUN. It was a true story of a senseless murder of an elderly lady by two teenage girls that took place in California. We used the Cinema Verité technique in a dramatic context.

I was very fortunate to have spent a lot of time in Asia with my father who was a consultant with the Ford Foundation on low-cost housing, using a light-weight pre-fabricated concrete panel system that he invented. He created housing for victims of flood, famine, and displacement due to political upheaval, as well as hundreds of latrines in the streets. We spent five years in Calcutta, which they say is like the worst place in the world sometimes. The hellhole of the world, you know what I mean? It’s just so much misery and so much homelessness and pain and disease. And then the monsoon comes and everything just floats. You really see the desperation, yet there is joy and happiness. I mean, in a way, the more suffering and pain people go through, the nobler they are – very interesting, yes? There was a sense of joy in the street dwellers. I was so fortunate to have lived in many countries, including Egypt for a year (another Ford Foundation Project), and traversed the globe twice by the age of 14. It gave a global perspective, and the deep belief that we are all one family, and the planet is in a precarious, fragile state.

My father was Polish/Ukrainian. And my mother was Jewish, so when the Nazis came, sympathetic Poles would hide her in the cellars, and they lived in a constant state of fear where my mother and her sister could have been sent away anytime. Anytime. It’s a miracle that they survived. And it’s really marked them – they’re survivors who never went to the camps, they lived in a constant ‘Holocaust’.

SB: Regarding the Holocaust (and even much of the 20th century – forget about the rest of the past three millennia), generations Y & Z seem to have no sense of history and X tends to fudge it when it suits them.

RZ: Right. Well, that’s also very unfortunate and that’s one of the themes in our film, this misinformation, lack of education and even hate speech. There’s so much false information going around, people now can be more easily swayed into believing inaccurate ‘facts’ and outright lies, you know, rewriting history. It’s very unfortunate. And artificial Intelligence, if used incorrectly can have devastating effects.

SB: As Milos Forman said, “Holocaust films will be made and should be made as long as we can’t understand what makes people so cruel to each other.”

RZ: And that’s one of the things we’re trying to do in this film is to educate people. In fact, Gina Wendkos, the writer, has always dreamed about going around to the high schools, to use the screenings as a point of departure for some meaningful discussions.

SB: Let’s get to the story behind the film. It took a long time to finally come to fruition? I kind of got the feeling that it didn’t just happen overnight.

RZ: That’s right. Gina gave me the script literally 25 years ago, and I was very deeply touched by it. Each time I would read it, over the years, the tears would never stop flowing – that is the timeless power of it. It moved me deeply not only because of my own sometimes conflicted background (trying to understand both sides of the equation), but also because of the deep themes expressed in the film, and the rich characters that you felt, especially Casey, who just made your heart open. Themes of forgiveness, of bringing people together, of compassion, unconditional love, which we can extend to our neighbors and with people we meet – trying to love the other, as much as we love ourselves. And the challenge to find the balance, which is very difficult for any human being. All those themes attracted me when I read the script, but it went through a long up and down journey to get it made.

FUN, which I mentioned earlier, was quite a success at Sundance, as well as at festivals across the globe. And it opened doors at every studio. I met with major producers, every studio.

My agents sent me everywhere. I did the whole, what they called the ‘dog and pony show’ and everyone wanted to meet me and talk to me. They would always, present their scripts and their projects and there were a lot of wonderful films that I was up for, which in the end I didn’t get. But they were huge studio films, like Se7en(1995),Scream (1996). Girl Interrupted(1999), and oh so many. A lot of amazing, compelling scripts came through my desk. Everyone always asked, “By the way, do you have any projects you want to do?” I would always relentlessly pitch this one. Tiger Within was one of my three, besides a large scale science fiction film ALieNZ and Bardo Thodol. Bardo Thodol is my ultimate dream project, based on the Tibetan Book of the Dead, which I had discovered as a teenager when we visited Katmandu, at the time we were living in India. It’s the journey we take between Death and Rebirth, aimed for a wide audience, tackling the themes of karma, laws of cause and effect, accountability for one’s actions, words and thoughts.

Anyway, the film took 25 years to make because we couldn’t get the financing. I ended up being not only the producer and of course the director, but also the sole financier. I had to take loans among other sources to make the film, so we took a risk. The script was originally set in New York, and I was concerned that having to shoot in sunny, golden California, would deflate it, lose the grit – but in retrospect it seemed to make it stronger, because hate, antisemitism, racism lurks everywhere, even in these or less expected places, in fact that is what makes it so subversive, in this country and the world at large, in both the physical world and on-line.

SB: But you’re an older guy, you’re not supposed to fall for like mortgaging the house to make a film. You’re supposed to be wiser than that.

RZ: Yeah, I know. But… <Laughs> when you believe in something so strongly and it has a powerful message… life is short, you want to do something that will change the world, improve the world.

I tried to do a Kickstarter. In fact, when you go on the film’s website,, there’s some compelling videos we did for the various Kickstarter campaigns. And they’re so interesting because they’re from 10 years ago, yet they’re so current, because nothing seems to have changed in our world, in fact things have gotten worse, making it a mixed blessing the film got delayed, as now it seems to be even more relevant.

There are videos of rehearsals we did with various actresses and actors and there’s artwork – concept drawings, animations – so it shows the history of the project. It’s almost as if I made the film several times in my imagination. Also, all the research we did about forgiveness, a major theme in the film. It’s a very touchy subject because everyone had different opinions, especially the experts. We interviewed a Rabbi, a Priest, a Buddhist Monk, a Muslim, a Native American Chief, as well as a Philosopher of Ethics, and a Psychotherapist. I also spoke to dozens of teenagers, as well as people of all levels of society, and age groups on the streets of Los Angeles and New York. It became a side documentary project, and you can watch the interviews on the films’ website (forgiveness tab).

Everyone agreed that there was a tremendous self-healing power in forgiveness, my Buddhist inclinations of the laws of karma, cause-and-effect were confirmed, but you will be amazed by the various conflicting concepts, understanding and definitions of forgiveness, ranging from transactional, to unconditional, to honor, to measured. One of my favorites was the Native American POV. We are only beginning to discover the beauty and the power of these cultures which we have almost erased – a sort of slow motion, perhaps subversive, genocide in itself – and similar ones are in the works, look at Tibet and what is going on in China with the Uyghurs. But let’s get back to Tiger.

SB: The dialogue was good. I thought it was strong. I’m a dialogue person. I think that if you’re going to make a narrative film, good dialogue is imperative.

RZ: Well, that’s from Gina Wendkos’s script. She wrote a film that I directed.

SB: You shot the script, but in your own inimitable Cinema Verité style?

RZ: Yeah. Ginger Ale Afternoon that was also her script, her play. The film went on to the Dramatic Competition at Sundance, the very first year, when we were up against Soderbergh’s Sex Lies and Videotape (1989) and independent film and Sundance were put on the map. It was a historic year. Gina is brilliant with dialogue. It comes from her background as a playwright. I would be in awe, how she could write an argument between a couple that would go on for an hour, on a bare stage, yet it took you on a roller coaster of emotions, humor, empathy and all the colors of the human condition, and you just loved the characters, and saw yourself in them. What I love about her dialogue is that it’s also understated, specific, elegant, economical yet sharp and uncompromising in its honesty and intimacy. That’s power.

SB: That’s why it has bite though, when they’re good lines, they just hit harder.

RZ: That’s right. Every scene is potent, but it’s sometimes done with such elegance – it’s effective and mesmerizing. And in fact, the more you start embellishing it, the less power it has. As you know, often less is more – which is exactly the approach I took in directing here.

I tried to direct this movie by not over manipulating it, not over managing the performances. And I was so fortunate to work with such an amazing actor as Ed. I knew he felt this role. He completely bared his soul, and you feel the pain and of his life, of who he was. And the same with Margot. I just happened to catch her at a time in her life where she was, you know, wounded. She was deep and complex. She had gone through a very complicated childhood. So it was always like raw sorrowful emotions that they both exposed. So, I captured a moment in time between these two human beings and they revealed their souls. You really see deep inside who they are, not just as the characters, but as human beings. And I think that’s why the film is so moving. It really touches people because it’s a small, minimal story, yet there’s such truth in the performances they portray and the underlying thematic conflict. Ed’s acting was transcendental, but I have to add that he was an amazing man too. Encyclopedic knowledge, politics, awareness of the world, impeccable memory, you could have a conversation on any subject, and learn so much, with such clarity, compassion, wisdom, universality, and humor. His humor is brilliant. And physical energy – here we are shooting night scenes, and he is still so sharp and awake, while the crew is starting to fall asleep, and every morning right on time, ready to go!

SB: So, directing Ed Asner and he had so many major roles on television, in movies, and the public stage, an actor’s actor – what was your approach?

RZ: Gina was initially concerned because he was best known as a comedy actor. How can he play drama? But it just worked beautifully because Ed had truly studied his craft and had consciously addressed that dichotomy himself. He put it this way: “In comedy you have to find the drama, and in drama you have to find the comedy, and the best writing and performances come from the marriage of the two. That’s when it becomes very powerful.”

SB: I think he delivered some pretty good black humor at just the right times. Mostly it was visual. It was the way he rolled his eyes and controlled his facial expressions, which is pretty interesting that he could do that. That’s a really good actor who can say things without words.

RZ: That’s right. His performance was so restrained. That’s why it was strong. He was extremely careful not to overact, not to be over mannered and overstate, and keep it deep inside and subtle. And I think that’s the power of it. I had this fear as a director that we didn’t want this thing to become too emotional and too “schmaltzy.” I would say it had to be gritty, real and uncompromising and it must show the beauty, the ugliness, and everything in between. Truth is the most powerful, it doesn’t lie! So, for the performances and how I directed:

I was searching for the truth, the truth in the moment and when I saw the truth, I did not dare interfere in any way. And my job was, in a way, to create a comfortable space where these actors could act and do what they’re best at doing – just act.

SB: It was a heck of an acting job. I think that, the more it gets out there, the more people will look at the performance and say, wow! Yeah. It’s very strong, and you know it holds up with some of the special lead movie roles I’ve seen played by older actors considered to be well past their prime – Robert Mitchum at 58 in Farewell My Lovely (1975), Burt Lancaster at 67 in Atlantic City (1980), Peter O’Toole at 74 in Venus (2006), Christopher Plummer at 86 in Remember (2015) Of course Ed was 89 here.

RZ: Right, but also, I have to say that we spent several years trying to make it with Martin Landau, (who was in Remember with Plummer).

SB: He probably would’ve been good. I can’t imagine he wouldn’t have been. I saw you thanked Landau in the credits.

RZ: Yeah. Because we spent a lot of time with Martin. We were trying to set it up. He tried to get Steven Spielberg to get involved, and he just believed in it. He was such a gentleman, and I had worked with him on a film called The Elevator (1996).And we had a relationship previously from another film, and we’d always meet at Jerry’s Deli or at Mel’s Diner, and we would spend hours and hours in the afternoons talking about Hollywood. Martin would tell us all these stories about everything he went through, including having an affair with Marilyn Monroe for a whole year. I never knew that. But when I asked for more intimate details, he wouldn’t tell me and just smiled. Still, there were quite a few secrets that he did tell us. After Martin had passed, as well as before he became attached, Gina or I had met with a number of actors; there was Armin Mueller-Stahl, Jerry Lewis, Max Von Sydow, Rod Steigerand I remember, I spent a lot of time chasing Kirk Douglas.

But, you know, in the end, there’s no actor in the entire world who could have played this role as well as Ed did. I mean, it was a miracle and such a gift. And I tell you, Ed was the only actor who could have given us this depth, the pain, the intelligence. I don’t know of any other actor who could have done it as well as Ed did, and we were so lucky. And Ed was such a relentless trooper. Once or twice, he was almost on the verge of quitting. He was just like, “I can’t handle this anymore.” But then he stuck with it. I remember once we were sitting in this crappy building with no air conditioning and there was no makeup room. He was basically in this tiny prison like cell, it looked like a squat apartment, sitting there on this bed with no mattress and just the metal chair and it was very grim. But he stuck through it and it was just because he really believed in this project. He believed it had to be made. He felt that this was a tale that needed to be told, because it was a story that would resonate to other cultures, other religions, other nationalities, other groups. When I showed him the film at the end, he said, “I didn’t expect anything. This is actually good.”

SB: Well, it’s unquestionably a well made film, but that’s very nice. A real compliment.

RZ: Yeah, he was very much like his character in the Mary Tyler Moore Show. He was gruff but gruff with love. True Scorpio. We were so fortunate; this was his last major starring role. We captured a legend at a moment in time that will hopefully never be forgotten.

SB: How did you hook up with Ed for the part?

RZ: It was an interesting story. I was driving down Laurel Canyon where I live, and this guy was hitchhiking. And I’d seen him many times walking down. He looked very interesting. Anyway, so he keeps hitchhiking. And I said to myself, what the hell, I’m gonna stop and see who this person is. So, he jumps in and he’s like, in his sixties. And it turns out he’s an actor, a character actor, Todd Hoffman. And he says, “I’ve just written a script and Ed Asner is in it. It’s about him and his dog.” I said, “Ed Asner, oh my god I have this movie about a Holocaust survivor, and my actor just died – Martin Landau.”

He told me Ed would be wonderful in it and might be interested. He picks up the phone, he dials and he says, “Ed, I got a project for you.” And Todd put me on the phone, and I said, “Mr. Asner I’m so honored to talk to you” – this as we’re driving, like about 30 seconds after the guy jumped in my car. And I said to Ed, “You know, I’ve been trying to make this movie about a Holocaust survivor for many years, and would you be interested in reading it? It’s a really beautiful story.” Ed says, “Send it over right now. Bring it over to my house.” I drive over to him, all the way to Encino, and I drop it off underneath his door mat. And the next day I get a call very early in the morning. He said, “I’m in, I’m doing this job.” <Laughs>.

SB: Ha, that’s great.

RZ. I owe getting Ed to Todd. Without him it would not have happened. It was just meant to be. Todd ended up in the movie as Ed’s body double and was Ed’s companion, keeping him entertained in between scenes, so it all worked out. They were always cracking jokes and laughing, two old pals. It was just wonderful, as if by magic. And at that time, I wasn’t even sure if we were going to be making this movie. I mean, there was no actor I was trying to get after Kirk Douglas.

SB: How Long after you wrapped the film was it before Ed passed?

RZ: Oh, it was about two years ago. See, the pandemic threw a curve ball at us, because this film should have come out the year after it got made. But because of the pandemic, all the theaters were shut down. The festivals were shut down, everything was shut down and nothing was going on. So, then I tried to get an Academy Award campaign going because I thought there was an opportunity. There were no major studio films being promoted. There were only one or two smaller independent films. Maybe we had a shot. We did our own grassroots campaign. We submitted it to the Academy Awards. We sent out email blasts multiple times, but it was difficult to get anyone’s attention since the big films get all the promotion and support.

SB: So you had the word already out back at that point. That means when you get to another point, you actually have some seeds planted.

RZ: A little bit. A little bit. But it also hurt us because we had to play it for one week at the Laemmle Virtual Cinema. But then some people saw that as a release.

SB: That was a world premiere. Right?

RZ: Yeah. Some reviewers wrote about it, but it was so obscure, we didn’t get any big reviews. When it came out now, some of the press said that it’s been reviewed already. It’ a movie that was released already. But I tried to tell everyone it was never released and that was just a qualifying run that usually would be done in a theater for a week. But this was done on the virtual platform and almost no one saw it because we deliberately didn’t promote it or advertise it. I didn’t want anyone to see it. I just had to do it to qualify. I would love for Ed to be nominated posthumously. He deserves it.

SB: The film is not posthumous, it’s a live film out there. So why couldn’t he be nominated?

RZ: Now, maybe we will. I’m hoping that maybe this will be the time because, not only is the film so topical now, but since that time the world has had much darkness and so much misinformation and racism is growing and there is increased antisemitism. But anyway, if you have any pull in trying to convince anyone to get Ed nominated again, please give it a shot. Ed deserves to have this honor. He never had an Academy Award while he has had so many Emmys and actually broke all the records.

When I have chosen my actors, I really love them. I always make friends with them, fall in love with them: like a puppet-master that falls in love with his puppets.”Federico Fellini

RZ: Well I’m very honored that the movie is getting such beautiful reviews for Ed and Margot. People seem to just love them. I feel very proud that I was able to discover this girl and it was like a miracle how I found her. I was with my son Noah, and he wanted to get into commercials. He was 13 or 14 at the time. So, we went to a casting agency that was looking for kids and I saw Margot sitting there at the other end of the lobby among a ton of kids, probably like 50 of them. She had these interesting eyes, very deep magnetic eyes, which spoke such depth. And they were huge, and they were piercing, and they were just fascinating. I just was drawn to walk up to her mom and her, and we started talking. I was already, in the thick of trying to put Tiger Within together, but I didn’t want to raise any type of false hopes, so I told them that I was working on a Kickstarter campaign raising money. I said we needed someone to shoot for a poster, so we could sell the project to investors. I asked her mom if she’d mind if we dressed Margot up as a homeless girl for the photo and video shoot.

After it was agreed, myself and Tara Violet Niami, a super-talented photographer of Iranian Origin, ( whom I was considering as Director of Photography, went around Skid Row and spent the day photographing. Margot really thought it was an exhilarating adventure, you know, and I started talking to her about the character of Casey and what was going through her head. I sort of walked her into the role and she completely understood the character and she became Casey right there in front of our eyes. She wandered through desolate streets, picked up garbage, tried to find food. She just started completely improvising the character. She tried to climb some barbed wire fences. She picked up some shopping carts, and started spinning them around, smashing things and kicking them. Then she just plopped herself down and sat on the sidewalk. She found this old garage, and she lied down and sort of cuddled up, like in her loneliness and pain – perfect! And then she fell asleep. You can see the photos and videos on the film’s website

In the end I felt that it would be unjust to Tara to place her into a nearly impossible situation, of having to shoot her first feature with a reduced crew, almost no money, a heat spell, a limited child-labor reduced-crammed shooting schedule, with a legendary actor who might demand a certain level of experience, and question my judgement. So I ended up working with Helge Gerull, a German born cinematographer, that had worked on another grueling shoot in 35mm, in New York, on my earlier movie Downtown: a Street Tale (2004) ,a film about homeless kids, that premiered at AFI Fest, starring Academy Award nominee Genevieve Bujold. Helge is a deeply sensitive, visually poetic cameraman and photographer, who loves working with natural light, and he was a real trooper, carrying the handheld Arri Alexa Mini, on his shoulder on every shot, in the heat and sweat of the Los Angeles streets. The entire movie was shot handheld and Helge had a sore shoulder throughout, as a result of the ordeal.

Diversity and inclusion is also my concern, and by deliberately choosing to work with an Iranian and then a German cinematographer, on a film that was a Jewish/Holocaust themed story would be a statement that we are all one and we need to come together, build bridges, so the world would be a better, more peaceful place since history unfortunately has a way of repeating itself, in different incarnations and forms. Ed felt strongly about this, and it was one of the reasons he chose to work on this film, because he saw its potential to resonate on a much wider and bigger scale.

As we were shooting with Tara and Margot, I remembered this street in Calcutta – the homeless, the Untouchables. It all came back to me.

I drew on all those memories and experiences. Then I got her to read the screenplay, and she really related to the story and she felt it was her. Next, I did some improvs with her, where I played a school counselor who’s questioning a girl who’s just gotten herself into trouble and she improvised things as if they were happening in high school. That really helped to get her into character. Then I asked the casting director, who was sending me all these actresses who were 18 and over, if hewould mind if we considered this girl who is only 14. I said, “she’s the real thing.” The casting director didn’t like that idea at all. But, at the very end of the last session, I brought her in, and Gina was there as well. She did some scenes from the script, and she was incredible. She went deep inside, there was amazing authenticity, including tears. There were real tears, you know, coming down her cheeks. Gina and I, and Mike Pina, the Executive Producer, and everyone in the room, we were like, completely shocked. She was Casey! I mean, we were so moved we were all crying.

SB: That’s beautiful.

RZ: Yeah. Then she revealed things about her childhood that were quite interesting. She’s had a very complicated life and it all shows on the screen. We just felt she was the one. And she was very natural with all kinds of material dealing with the script. I wanted her to meet Ed before we made a decision, and we brought her to Ed’s house. Ed read with her and they just became the two characters. And Ed was so generous with her. He was so fatherly and so supportive. What clinched the deal for me was when I asked them to take a walk together in the backyard and the way she just picked his arm up, as he was very frail because he’d had a hip surgery, which was so helpful. Then he started improvising, as if they were walking down his street in New York, talking about the neighborhood and all the things where he lived.

She just asked him questions and he answered them. And I videotaped the whole thing – It was just like, scenes out of the movie. We knew then that she had to be Casey.

SB: So how long did it take to make the movie?

RZ. It was so rapid. The whole thing was so fast, super-fast. Because I had so little money, I originally wanted to shoot the whole thing in 12 days. But when I brought a 14-year-old child into the picture, that completely uprooted the whole schedule and plan. We could only work for five hours a day with her, and we had to abide by child labor laws. We had to have a teacher on the set and there were scenes that the union was very nervous about with a 14-year-old. SAG was very nervous about the massage parlor scenes. They wrote a very strict Bible for how we were going to shoot those scenes – she could not be in the presence of any male actor, basically we had her massaging a pillow. Then we brought in a stand in, another actress, who played her part in the massage parlor and I just read the dialogue off camera – then we pieced it together. And we made a pledge to hire a crew that was 50% female, to make Margot as comfortable as possible and to honor our deep commitment to diversity and inclusion in the industry.

SB: Well what the heck, who needs three takes?

RZ: Yes, you’re right. No, we didn’t need three takes. I’ll tell you a story about that. Sometimes there was no time to do multiple takes. To save time, I used all the techniques that Richard Leacock and Roger Corman taught me. My low-budget movie beginnings came in real handy, how to work fast, efficient and maximize production values, wherever possible. Some scenes were completely improvised, and we just filmed them with no rehearsals. In other scenes there was no time to properly shoot them. I would shoot the entire scene and all the coverage without cutting the camera. Normally you would spend four or five hours shooting a particular scene. You would set up different angles and shoot the scene multiple times. We didn’t have that luxury. Basically, I would say, okay, roll camera, we would play the scene. When the scene was over, I would say, don’t cut, don’t cut. Let’s reposition the camera and we’ll repeat it from this angle, then I would ease the cameramen to a new position. Now we re-play the scene. Then we’ll repeat and I’ll move it again, so we would do like 10 different setups. And that really helped us a great deal because, you know, whenever you cut the camera, you lose many minutes, as everything and everyone resets and adjustments are required. It was always a race, the clock ticking as if in slow motion, to make it just before the 5-hour daily limit for a child performer.

SB: Gotcha.

RZ: Yeah. It immediately takes away the 10 minutes waiting. I eliminated all of that and got all the coverage by using this technique. And it worked. It also made the performances roll with their natural rhythm. You know, there’s something about not cutting the camera. Films are done in little pieces, but when Ridley Scott does this, he shoots scenes with multiple cameras and he just lets them flow. So, there’s a very natural rhythm to the performance. And I used it in FUN actually.

SB: And how many cameras were you shooting with – just one?

RZ: Yeah.

SB: Okay. Of course. Just one.

RZ: Yes. Our final coverage was very limited but when we made FUN we literally had no coverage. I said, every scene will be one continuous shot and that’s it. The cameraman would just fly around and some scenes went on for like 15 minutes and the camera would just roll from here to there to there.

SB: Sort of natural. I congratulate you. You don’t see that on the screen. So that’s beautiful that you could do that. it seemed like just regular stuff. Very good. That’s impressive.

RZ: Yeah. It also gives the film sort of a real feel, like you are witnessing real life. Also, we were filming all over the streets, sometimes with no permits, since we couldn’t get them because they were just too expensive. Literally, Ed was walking, entering buses and walking down crosswalks and we were always very nervous because it takes time for him to cross. The red light would start up and we said, “oh my God, he’s gonna get run over!” He was such a trooper. He was so wonderful. We shot all over the place. I wanted the film to also be a portrait of the city. We wanted to show all the colors of Los Angeles, so you wouldn’t feel claustrophobic and the film could breathe, to maximize production values and the visuals. It became a sort of love letter to the City of LA. So, we had Ed & Margot everywhere. There was a major historic heat spell as we were shooting. So, it was tough. It was very tough on Ed to put him through this, and we didn’t have air conditioning anywhere.

SB: You didn’t have a honey wagon?

RZ: Just for him. We had a little camper. You know, then about halfway through the film, we felt so badly for Margot that her mom, (we didn’t have the budget) paid for a camper. So yeah, that’s how low budget the whole production was. I hope I don’t have to make such an extremely low budget film ever again, because it’s rough. It’s tough on everyone. It’s hard on the crew. It’s tough on the actors.

SB: Well, I thought you handled the thing about the mother and the denial of the Holocaust very tactfully and efficiently to get the point across. Collective memories are pretty bad these days, I’ve noticed. I think from Y to Z, it’s nearly totally lost. And X, they’ve deliberately not told Y certain things,

RZ: Yeah, it’s almost like the Holocaust, it’s just become a sort of slogan, but no one really knows the details of the history. And that’s what Gina would love to do through education, hopefully such atrocities will never, ever happen again. But it’s only by knowing the complexity and the details of the history that you realize what human beings are capable of doing and how you can manipulate people step by step. It’s a whole process.

I’m hoping that the film will attract a wider and younger audience. At the moment it’s being marketed towards an older demographic, but people are starting to discover Margot and they see a star in the making. She deserves to get some huge roll out from this and I hope that some major directors see this performance and approach her because of it.

SB: She played her age, basically – right?

RZ: Yes, that’s right. She’s 19 now, so she could easily play, you know, 19. And there’s plenty of roles for the 19, 20-year old’s now.

SB: What’s the date that you opened in NYC?

RZ: It opened July 28th in New York at the cinema that’s called, New Plaza Cinema. It’s a boutique theater on West 67th Street. They’re playing lots of cool movies. The distributor, Menemsha Films, is sprinkling it out, but it’s catching on at Rotten Tomatoes with an 80% audience score. They wanted Margot to do a Q & A when it opened.

SB: Oh, they always like that.

RZ: But they couldn’t because of the strike, right? Well, I think she’s not part of SAG, but she was under the Low Budget SAG Agreement.

SB: Well, the point of it is, if she’s going to get into SAG, they covered the ground on that. They said: “Oh, yeah. If you do this and you were going to try to get into SAG later, that’s gonna eliminate you.” They got some bite there, you know. Yeah, I’m sure one needs to be so careful. That’s the kind of measure Ed Asner probably would have put in a long time ago, when he was president of SAG, to maintain union solidarity. In 1983; he stood up to the studios just when the technology was changing, and that’s exactly what’s going on now, you know? So now we’re all following in his footsteps. If he was the president of the Screen Actors Guild today, this is exactly the same battle he would be fighting, and he’d be right in the middle of it.

RZ: Same battle, same issues, just the technology, has leaped to a new realm. One ironic thing I should mention. SAG actually shut the film down halfway through. They said we were taking too many risks, shooting without permits, and with no money, or proper security to protect the performers in the streets. It was a disaster. I thought I’d lose all my money, the film would never be finished, and it was all over! Then Ed, being a sophisticated political negotiator, wrote a letter of apology to the president of the guild, stressing how important the film and the subject matter was, and how he would make sure we all took the necessary precautions from then on.

We waited. A week went by. Then by miracle the guild relented. We were allowed to continue. I started with a $100,000 budget. When I chose to work with a child star, the budget increased to $200,000.

Now I had to find a new crew, because several left to work on other projects, and had to increase the budget to $300,000.

I was the director, the producer and the sole financier, together with my wife (Vally Mestroni). I had battles within myself carrying these multiple hats, which typically are at war with one another. I could not sleep at nights. I’m so grateful for my wife, who is an artist and shares the belief that sometimes we need to be bigger than ourselves, despite the financial struggles.

SB: What about the rest of the cast? It wasn’t a full ensemble because they were all in separate places, but you had a good set of secondary characters that I thought were very solid.

RZ: Yes, they were. For example, Taylor Nichols, who plays one of the customers in the massage parlor, was a star in a film I made called Age of Kali. And he did a few Whit Stillman movies. He was in Barcelona (1994).

SB: Whit Stillman was so hot, and then he was just gone.

RZ: I think he’s still trying to make films through Kickstarter. I’ve noticed him raising financing there.

The mom played by Erica Piccininni was marvelous. A young mother who would transform like a chameleon often depending on what her character’s emotional state was in that scene.

SB: She was very good. She went from being like almost hideous in one shot to being really sexy in a few others.

RZ: And they’re all unique and surprising in their own ways – we had a very accomplished casting director, Brad Gilmore. I wanted to use famous actors in cameos to play all the parent roles, to boost the marketability of the film – (my producer hat), but Brad felt strongly we needed just talented actors who were not recognizable faces, he won and he was right. But he lost the battle over Margot. Casting an authentic 14-year-old was the right choice, although I was disappointed when we approached Billie Ellish who turned the project down because of touring obligations, but we tried.

James Victor, (the dad) and Jennifer Christopher, (his wife) were true finds, that played with such authenticity. Jonathan Brooks, the abusive racist boyfriend, was a challenge not to make him seem stereotypical, underplaying the obvious. He pulled it off.

Diego Joseph, the boyfriend, is an incredible actor. He’s been on several television shows, which are all well regarded top quality productions. He was in the Amazon series, Goliath. He’s Latino and I think he was a good casting choice since Latinos are underrepresented in our present culture. Don’t get me started on the Indigenous cultures…

SB: Diego was very smooth in getting through to Margot – a very good supporting role. That’s a good part, right? He looked like someone who wouldn’t miss a beat.

RZ: Well, he was excellent In Goliath, you know and very sweet. He’s so natural and so subtle – a very deep actor and super handsome. All the ladies on the set were completely like into pieces when he would arrive, including Margot. I remember her blushing and she would be like, “oh my God!” She was so shy around him. When he was doing the film, he was like 17. I hope that, through him and Margot, we will attract the younger audience. Jade Webber, the sister, as well as being on her way to becoming a super-model, at 17 was nominated on social media as one of the ten most beautiful kids in the world and is someone to watch.

SB: Yeah. So here again you were spotting talent early?

RZ: Yeah, I love discovering talent. It’s one of the joys of being a director and when you’re doing independent films, you must discover new actors because you can’t easily contract for stars. The movie business is usually a closed business where the agents are very controlling in whom they give access to and who they want to do business with.

SB: Yeah, so the gatekeepers remain, thirty years since Jean-Luc Godard said that “Movies in Hollywood now are made mainly by lawyers or agents” and forty years from when Hollywood had a king. Did you ever read that book?

RZ: No, I haven’t.

SB: When Hollywood Had a King was about Lou Wasserman, the MCA super-agent who took over Hollywood for like 20 years. It’s amazing how he did it, but he was able to be very controlling from one end of the biz to all the others. And he did it with a deft touch usually, except in certain special situations where it could get rather brutal – (he had major influence with the Teamsters as well as most of Hollywood’s biggest stars under contract.) – but mostly deft. They say nobody will be able to do that ever again. Like one man, you know.

RZ: People operate on fear. And fear is very powerful. A lot of our social media is based on fear. The more fear you can spread, the more people pay attention.

SB: The Holocaust was one of the most horrific things that ever happened. But I think you dealt with it in a classy way. I mean, you didn’t hit people over the head. It was within the structure of the narrative.

RZ: The antisemitism was covered in a very minimal way. I didn’t want to hit people over the head because I thought that would diminish the work and make it weaker. By keeping it subtle you can do innuendos and a little comment here, a little phrase here. Because that’s how it works. It sort of crawls under your skin slowly. That’s also how people become programmed and contribute to systemic racism. Human beings are capable of anything. Human nature doesn’t change. That’s why it’s such a precarious world, and that’s why it’s so important to educate the youth. As I mentioned earlier, I can’t stress the fact enough, what’s going on today is suddenly 10 times more relevant to this film than even three years ago.

SB: This reminded me of when I was a kid, we had an ashtray that was like copper, bronze, something like that. And it had a swastika etched in the middle. And there’s this little kid, he’s circumcised, obviously he’s supposed to be Jewish and he’s peeing on it. <Laugh>.

RZ: Oh my God.

SB: Yeah. Well, it was a good ashtray

RZ: Oh boy. Anyway, when I was in India, we saw that symbol. It actually comes from India. Yeah. It goes back. It appears in several places and periods in art history. It has an interesting backstory. But it’s important here that Margot (Casey) saw it as basically a statement of “fuck you!”

SB: In a way, if you were Jewish in Europe in the 1930’s and 40’s it sort of was actually. So what about the graphic motif – the doodles and illustrations that are seemingly hand painted into the main action of the film in real time? Did the writer think of that all along?

RZ: No. It’s a very good question. On the first day of shooting, I noticed the assistant in the wardrobe department, Clara Collins, was sitting on the floor, and she was furiously writing in this diary, which was all covered with gold and like little jewels and stickers. And as she flipped the pages, I glimpsed there were all these drawing that were fascinating. I said, “Do you mind if I look through this diary notebook? Can I peek at it?” She said OK and so I flipped through it and it’s like a very intimate teenage girl’s diary. They were all expressionistic self-portraits, but very dark sort of renditions, that were almost like someone who was going through some sort of emotional-blender – portraits, poetry, moments in her life, with poems and illustrations and quotes, feelings bearing hurt and pain, you know, and drawings and drawings and more drawings. I said, “Well, this is Casey, this is her diary. Can we use this in the movie?” And she said it was ok. From then on, we started incorporating the idea that she’s an artist. In her bedroom, we had put these drawings all over her walls.

SB: Right. A natural artist, not someone who’s seriously in the professional art game.

RZ: Yeah. We would always show that she had a notebook with her. And then when we had to show the scene in the zoo, that helped us, because the scene, the way it was originally written was a very grand elaborate theatrical scene where she sticks her hand in a tiger’s cage and the tiger runs up and pounces as if he’s going to eat her hand. But then he stops and just licks her hand. It was just a beautiful moment – very symbolic. But I could never get a permit to shoot in a zoo, which is very expensive. And I could not use a tiger, even a digital tiger, let alone a live tiger, in the presence of a child. The whole thing was just Impossible.

SB: You needed an AI tiger that’s all.

RZ: <Laughs>. So, I commissioned Clara. I said, “Can you just go to the zoo and draw this tiger in the morning? And then we’re going to arrive around lunchtime, and we’ll use the drawings that you created that morning. We’ll have Casey pretend to be drawing them instead of having a moment of meditation on the tiger.” We shot this scene with a little still camera – just me, the cameraman and the actress with no crew, so we wouldn’t have to deal with getting a permit.

Then when we got to the editing, we engaged my wife Vally Mestroni ( who is a ingenious artist and illustrator and Senior Designer at Walt Disney Imagineering. If you go on the Tiger website, you’ll see all the concept drawings she did for the movie before we made it.

SB: Nice.

RZ: She took this idea and created animations. She spent several weeks creating these drawings, expressing the inner monologue of what Casey was feeling. And then we superimposed those animations in certain scenes.

SB: Well, at first it looked a little pretentious especially early on. But once it took hold, then it was part of the look and a character itself. But the things that really worked well were scene transitions. And there were perfect transitions. Perfect.

RZ: That’s right. They helped us with transitions and establishing shots.

SB: You know, there’s not many new ones. Fade in, fade out. Cut, dissolve. Yeah, so that was cool, and it worked.

RZ: It also helped a little bit with the ending because some people were questioning what happens to her after Ed dies. By doing that little portrait of him and then doing a drawing of a Christmas party, it suggests that she might have sort of partially reconciled with her dad’s family – that there was an act of forgiveness there as well. Not necessarily that she’s living with them, but at least that she went to a dinner with them. So it gives an element of hope. And people really responded to that last drawing. They felt there was a bit of closure to the story.

SB: I saw a Noah Zielinski in the credits as photographer – your son?

RZ: Yes and Noah is also in the movie. He makes numerous Zelig like appearances as various characters, because we often could not afford to pay for extras. I dare you to find all his chameleon guises. He was also the set photographer – at the age of 14, because we could not afford one. It was tough to focus him on taking photographs because he was more interested in skateboarding, so he would skate around the blocks and occasionally pop in and take a few stills – but he ended up taking the photo being used in the poster.

He is now at Rhode Island School of Design studying Architecture, but all he talks about is, “Daddy I want to make movies.” And I go: “No, you don’t. I would hate for you to endure the same journey I had to take, and it was not pretty.” Just look at my website ( It shows about a dozen projects, all amazing, wonderful, passion, dream projects that might never get made. Tiger Within was one of them. It was a miracle it ever got made. Filmmaking is a tough journey. I see thousands of college students graduating in film, all with Sundance dreams, yet the brutal reality is only a tiny fraction will ever get through the pearly gates, let alone the Hollywood Studio System. It’s just too painful, to see dreams being crushed.

But if we don’t dream, what is life all about? Maybe he will become a filmmaker and make all these moves on my behalf, or I’ll have to wait for my next reincarnation. But then I might have to make them in a different format, yet to be invented. Perhaps one where you just plug in and the movie plays inside your brain.

SB: How about the music?

RZ: Originally, I had approached Claire Boucher (Grimes) to do the score. I heard her first album around ten years ago in Montreal, when she was just an up and coming garage band. I was mesmerized by the psycho-acoustic effect of her music, the way it almost put you into an altered state and she was studying neuroscience at McGill. It reminded me of the all-night concerts of Classical Indian music that I would attend in Calcutta when I was a teenager. I approached her to score my science fiction project, about a future war between males and females set in space, and I would meet her at various concerts backstage, and gave her the script – (ALieNZ I wanted her to write the music for my films, and when I started putting together Tiger Within, and launching the Kickstarter Campaign, she kindly allowed us to use her tracks in the various trailers and promos (check them out on But then she became a super star, started dating Elon Musk, and I did not want to keep on chasing her backstage at concerts – “please do the score, but I have no budget”, so we lost touch. But I hope to reconnect with her, and if I ever get to make AlieNZ, I think she would create a score that would be mind-blowing.

So, I turned to Mark Tschanz, a Swiss Composer, who scored my film FUN. Mark wanted to make sure the music was minimal and had a rough around the edges feel, to match the documentary, gritty, handheld style of the movie. He wanted it to have violins and electronics, to marry the two psyches and inner life of Casey and Samuel, but not to become overbearing, grand, or over emotional. We would have listening sessions and add in aberrations, random mistakes, introduce random algorithms, to sort of deconstruct the perfection. We tried to make the instruments a touch out of tune and have the electronics sometimes fight the acoustics and the violins not to be perfect – more like a street musician would play it, less is more approach.

Then I approached Tony Knox from the local college station KXLU, to find up and coming Los Angeles bands whose tracks would integrate with Mark’s score. We ended up using Sorry Girls (from Canada) and the rest of the local bands that include Jane Machine, Lucky-and-Love, Band Aparte, Plasmic, The Tissues, and an on camera performance in the club scene by the industrial/synth band, Terminal A.

SB: The way she spray paints the swastika off her jacket, which was originally spray painted on her in the club, also kind of rounds things out.

RZ: Yes. And also the swastika that was sprayed on the synagogue was a real temple in Westwood. They allowed us to do that as long as it was not permanent and we would wash it off afterwards.

SB: It must have been a reform congregation…not even conservative – must have been reformed.


RZ: Well, it was Westwood.

YES REPEAT NO – Experimental Cinema to the Rescue

Michael Dahan’s Cerebral yet Intense Meta Film Confronts the Israeli Palestinian Dilemma with an Existential Casting Session

By Scott Bayer

To do a dull thing with Style is preferable to doing a dangerous thing without style – To do a Dangerous thing with Style is what I call ART – Marco Ferreri

Michael Moshe Dahan’s Yes Repeat No, in the opinion of this writer is one of those rare cinematic works of ART that pop up every now and then in the Indie Film Fest circuit and it emphatically satisfies the Italian ‘Punk’ Film Director Ferreri’s (1928-1997) criteria standard.

One of 18 features selected for this year’s 28th Stony Brook Film Festival, July 20th to 29 – (which also included 14 shorts), Yes Repeat No was inspired by the noted actor activist Juliano Mer- Khamis, who came to a tragic end at the age of 53. He was the son of a Christian Palestinian father, and a Jewish Israeli mother and was a former IDF (Israeli Defense Forces) paratrooper. Juliano began what ultimately became a successful acting career at the age of 24 in 1982. In 2006, after the second Intifada, with more than 30 movie & TV acting credits amassed, he returned to Jenin, on the West Bank in Palestine, where he had served in the IDF as a teen, and started the Freedom Theater for Children whose aim was to foster a cultural Intifada and demand rights for Palestinians through art. In 2011 Juliano Mer-Khamis was assassinated as he was leaving the theater he founded.

So we’re going to see a documentary about Juliano Mer- Khamis?


Open: three bearded male actors with Middle Eastern type faces on an interior set, shot in black and white, apparently rehearsing on a revolving floor/stage. In the background, we see a movie camera/man shooting them. Slate and action: A metronome is operating continuously – annoyingly loud. Credits pop in placed unobtrusively around the action in the foreground. A woman director is stationed in a booth overlooking the set, equipped with audio visual recording and playback equipment.

She addresses the men through a loudspeaker: “You’re not auditioning for one character, but a type… “

— Cut to a closeup of the cover of John Le Carre’s book, The Little Drummer Girl —

“… an Israeli type. The role you will be playing will include pieces of each. So all three really.”

The film is shot in color in the wings, the wardrobe and the production equipment and crew area.

A second slate: the actual movie begins filming. The first actor enters dressed in a soldier’s uniform and is told he is auditioning for the part of Israeli Juliano. From the booth, the woman director tells him: “It’s a conceptual film. You can be a type in a conceptual film, can’t you? A facet of a character based on the film roles played by Juliano, the actor activist”

The actor says quizzically, “So I’m playing an actor and an activist who is himself acting.”

What we have here is a reenactment type of documentary then. – Yes?


The second actor enters dressed in Arab garb. The director informs him, “You’re reading for the character type of Arab Juliano today.”

The actor asks, “Type, what do you mean, a type?”

Well, this is definitely not looking like any documentary I’ve seen. It’s clearly something else.

The third actor is told he is reading for the part of the public persona of Juliano.

As we’ll see, it’s a competitive audition of three actors vying to play three parts of one character, but that’s only one aspect layer of Yes Repeat No.

The actors are given some lines from various characters that Juliano played in movies and TV. You can see these guys can really act. But by the fourth short scene/monologue, the director and the actor seem to have a communication problem and tension begins to percolate on the set. Then the real director of the film we’re watching offers advice from the set area shot in color. Now we know that our female director is actually an actress herself. There is no fourth wall – there never was! This is a conceptual film.

Is there a script? Not for these actors, perhaps pieces of a script. It’s a film about the making of a film or possibly on the making of a script for a film about the making of a film. Within this construct, Dahan, who becomes a character (playing himself) as well, and his collaborators create what he designates as a meta film.

Much of this meta film is structured with dialogue and characters from commercial Middle Eastern and Hollywood movies and television, particularly honing in on director George Roy Hill’s movie interpretation of John Le Carre’s The Little Drummer Girl, a 1984 movie which deals with Palestinian terrorism, starring Diane Keaton. But there’s a disconnect for sure with selecting the “type” and who and how it can manifest. As Israeli Juliano points out: “These characters, they cancel each other out!”

The director responds implacably inscrutable as previously at the start – the characters, all three of them, “they’re a type.”

The film itself seems to have an identity crisis and it revels in it. Looking at Juliano’s biography, it’s clear he had major identity challenges. His Wikipedia entry actually includes a somewhat obscure but telling anecdote in reference to a period of time he took soul searching, between the end of his IDF service and gaining traction in his acting career – “in 1987 he spent a year in the Philippines, consuming hallucinogenic mushrooms and talking to monkeys. It was there that he felt, according to a later declaration, that he had shaken off all identities.”

Conceptually, Dahan draws from this to somehow present an essence of his virtual protagonist’s very unique persona. Juliano as Juliano, who could never be a type except when acting, which became all the more frequent as he emerged as a figure of prominence, often proclaimed that he was a hundred percent Palestinian and a hundred percent Israeli and that he was a Jew in Jenin and an Arab, in Tel Aviv. Inevitably these very accomplished actors, both individual and as an ensemble, develop their own identity crisis just as either one or both “directors” intended. Yet they gamely soldier on, delivering excellent and often brilliant improvisational dialogue that is either totally new, paraphrasing of historical figures’ statements on Middle Eastern politics or taken from the bare bones scripts they’ve been provided, often out of sequence or context – usually just snippets of lines pulled from much longer passages. Some examples: the Arab Juliano, “they call us terrorists. Terrorists. Why? Because we deliver our bombs with our hands. We don’t have any American planes or American tanks to deliver them.” Describing Keaton’s role in The Little Drummer Girl, “it’s an actor playing an actor, playing an actor.” Describing a double agent in The Little Drummer Girl Israeli Juliano says, “They’re all liars. We can’t trust any of them. They’re Mossad. They’re trained to be paranoid.” When the actor/director briefly leaves the set and they’re alone, they sense that they’re being used. Public Juliano declares, “We’re writing the script for them. That’s what they want. Hey, if they’re using any line from this, I’m calling the union.” One of the other actors says, “just trust the process.”

Karim Saleh & Mousa Hussein Kraish

We are 28 minutes into the film at this point, and now we’ve heard from our actress director that they’re looking for a bridge, a link, a kissing point – perhaps it is needed to prop up or enhance an evolving script. The director’s search for this elusive link becomes a part of this process. There are 70 minutes left to the film and we will provide no more spoiler details!! If you have any vestige of intellectual curiosity, you will now be pulled into watching the rest of the film as a who done it or might do it, meta mystery of 21st century existentialism. We will now examine the process of making this film in the following exclusive interview with Michael Moshe Dahan.

HSB: Keeping in mind your disclaimer – This film is based on true stories. Some of them are fictional – in the opening title credits; In terms of category, what would you call Yes Repeat No? Is it a documentary?

Or Is it a narrative?

MMD: I don’t know if you would call it a documentary. I mean, I think it’s an experimental film because it marries you know, both genres, right? It’s both in terms of form. It’s both narrative and documentary because actually so much of the stuff that happened there is just something that happened to happen in front of the camera while we were rehearsing the script that was written. So in that regard, it’s kind of both. And I don’t know what to say. If the festival offers an experimental category we submit to the experimental, if they don’t, then we submit to the narrative. I think after 20 years of working in the film business, working in academia and theater which was the place that I learned to direct and how I learned to love directing; this project really rolled all of those interests into one thing. Which is an artwork that’s also inspired by cinema, but really gives a nod to live performance. So in a way, it’s all the places that I’ve been as a creative person in one piece.

There’s a lot of nuance I think that people don’t get. And I was really fortunate because I worked with a group of performers who all had a kind of personal investment in the meta biography we were doing. These weren’t just actors that were cast as the best, you know, performer for the part. It was even more than that. It was not only were they the best performers, but they also had a kind of personal history with this. And they brought their own experiences into the rehearsal process, and they wrote their own experiences into it. Yeah. I mean there’s some stuff in there that is said by the actors that was really brought in by them. They were based on personal experiences that I never had, but we just tried to create an environment where there was that kind of latitude to do that. You know, there WAS a script. We had a shooting script, but the shooting script was really a kind of setup for the scenario to get us in the room and to get us to talk about the things that we understood and to argue, really, and the mandate that was given the camera crew – we had five cameras going six hours a day, almost non-stop – was, listen if we stop and have arguments, you don’t stop shooting.

You know, there’s no cutting. They’re like, well are we rehearsing today? Or are we shooting? Well, we’re rehearsing but I want you to shoot it. Right? And if we stop to talk about the script, then you keep going. And if we start to have arguments and there were few moments where we didn’t, the producers and I didn’t know whether or not we should be cutting, like was this an actual fight that was happening? I mean, there were moments which became that heated because we couldn’t tell the boundary between the performance and the rehearsal and the play. It was because they were so woven into these characters, Right? They had brought their narratives to the table.

Of course it’s a tough road for a film like this. I’ve been surprised that we’ve gotten some really good circulation at festivals, and it’s continuing to build slowly. I worked in mainstream, Hollywood cinema for a while. I understand what we were making. We didn’t deceive ourselves about what this was, but the provocation was really what happens if we make exactly the kind of film that we want to make even though it’s kind of radically non-conventional. Right? And I come from a background as a fine artist, so I’m used to making gallery exhibition videos that are completely non-narrative. So to me, this is really, really narrative as an artist.

HSB: But I think it doesn’t fit the mold of what we expect even from an independent film. I don’t think It fits any mold.

MMD: Yeah, that’s fine. That’s what art should be. That’s what I’m proud of.

HSB: The dialogue is just really good. How did you kind of get into the rhythm of writing this?

MMD: Well, here’s the thing right there. You have to understand, there’s two stages to this process. One is the writing of the script, which came about because I was actually curating an exhibition, and I was trying to put Israeli and Palestinian artists into the same exhibition space as a curator, right? Film and video work that had to do with intergenerational trauma. On the Jewish side, of course, there’s the Nazi Holocaust and on the Palestinian side I was looking at specifically artwork that was coming out of the occupation and the Nakba one or two generations later. What happens when you don’t really deal with the trauma in the immediate present like in the Holocaust. Many Jews coming from Eastern Europe to Palestine were not encouraged to speak about their experiences. So a lot of that was silence. So it takes a few generations for that stuff to work itself out. And I found some amazing artists from both Israel and Palestine, but I couldn’t get them to agree to be in the same room. So then I had a gallery space and a gallery director, Dr. Juli Carson who said, “listen man, I don’t know what you’re going to do, but you’ve got a gallery to fill in October, so you better start making some work, and you need to start making a film.”

And I was like, okay, well, this wasn’t really the mandate. But, I was given some advice by a professor at UC Berkeley named Dr. Stefania Pandolfo who said, “listen this is kind of a dangerous thing to try to hold these two different worlds in the same space. And, you know, people have tried to do it, and it’s been very dangerous. This activist actor, Juliano Mer- Khamis tried to do that, and he got himself killed.” So I just went into this sort of research hole and I found the materials on him.

HSB: That’s what led you to the story?

MMD: That led me to the story. I found a video of Juliano speaking about or foreshadowing his own assassination. Which is footage that we actually use where he kind of offhandedly makes a comment, “I’ll tell you how I’m going to die – some fucked up Palestinian is gonna shoot me right here in front of the theatre on the steps.”

And then I saw that it happened a few years later. You don’t have to be a genius to see that there’s a story there, right? That there had to be something there. And so that’s what started it. I put in a lot of time at the archives, but I also knew people who spent time with him and knew him. So I had really good guidance, but when I sat down to write the script I wrote it in one sitting, it was like 30 hours straight. I stopped to sleep and shower and eat. And then I got up, and then I finished it. And that first shooting script was the result of just one sitting, and it was the culmination of almost a decade of work that I’d been doing on my dissertation. So there was a lot of political and theoretical work that had gone into it. But Juliano became this kind of prism through which all of this existing research that I’d been doing crystallized immediately and very quickly.

Once we had a script we decided to go into pre-production. And we were blessed to be working with seriously talented people; our producer Braxton Pope has made some really compelling independent films with Paul Schrader and he brought a wealth of experience to our film. Then there’s a totally different stage, which is the stage at which we brought in the actors and the producers and the script really came to life. Our producer Sarah Szalavitz had this incredible idea to find all of these really seminal citations and quotes that had been spoken by people like Yitzhak Rabin, Shimon Peres, Yasser Arafat, Mahmoud Abbas, people on all different sides of the issue – whether they were politically with Israel or against Israel; pro-Palestinian, or against Palestinians. And then we printed them out on these huge boards that we had behind the cameras, and we told the actors to just start putting them into your script. So you often have people who are arguing in the film against each other, who are speaking two different things that Shimon Perez might have said at one or another time, or two different things that Yassar Arafat had said, but these kind of polarities switch historically so many times, right?

Because this issue is so complex that you could literally have any of the Julianos speaking any of these lines and have it be taken in a different way. So that’s one kind of really important step that happened in the room. And then it came down to giving the actors the license to kind of rewrite things. And the way that I like to work as a director is: I told them, look, this is what’s essential in this scene that I think that you have to say, beyond that, let’s just see where it goes. And we would shoot these 20 minute takes, we would shoot the script in four sections. Like you would rehearse a play, and we would just try to get into a flow. Sometimes they would repeat little parts of the scene, and sometimes they would get stuck and sometimes they would invent these really beautiful things. And I’m telling you that when you say the writing is fantastic, I’m proud of that. I can take some of the credit for it, but really, I believe that everyone involved on this project deserves credit for it. Because that creativity came from the producers or the actors themselves just generating this in the room based on what happened. Everything you see in the film that ended up in the film only happened one time, right? It’s not like we got something great and then I said, let’s do that again, exactly the same way.

The “Director” -Salome Azizi

HSB: That’s the way it is with live Jazz!

MMD: It was never done the same way. So whatever you see on film is really kind of a living moment that just happened, you know, by accident or by luck. And I think that the hardest thing in the beginning in the writing for me was figuring out how to identify each of these characters differently. But once we got the actors involved, it was really clear who was who.

HSB: They were strong actors.

MMD: Yeah. Really amazing performances. There’s no version of this film that would’ve worked without those exact actors. I mean, we even had to replace a couple of them. One of them had to be replaced the night before the first shoot, the first day of shooting. Then one of them had to be replaced on the third day. So really we were flying by the seat of our pants. You know the actor who played the director, Yael, there was another female actor cast in that part who was actually Israeli. And the night before, the day before we were going to production, she said, “listen, I can’t do this. You have to change this. I have a career in Israel, and if you don’t change this, I’m really afraid of what’s going to happen.

I’m afraid for my career, and I’m afraid for my safety.”

Wow. And I said, listen, this is not the project we’re making. I’m not changing anything. You have to go. I’m sorry. You should have let us know a long time ago. And we contacted Salome Azizi who was already on our short-list and was incredible in her initial audition and she just jumped right into, I mean, she went in and got there the first day, with one night to have looked at the script. And then on the third day, we had to lose another actor who who was replaced by Adam Meir. Right? So he also came in with very little prep, and I think that’s why there’s a kind of roughness to it, which is really kind of generative, you know. It’s very dynamic and alive because we hadn’t rehearsed it for two weeks and then, we weren’t just hitting our marks and saying the lines.

Also, it was impossible to make this without creating a very safe environment for all of the actors. You know, we had a Palestinian actor, we had an Israeli actor, we had a Lebanese actor, and we had an Iranian actor. And, you know, we’re all working and living in LA as people in the film business. But I think everybody still has a kind of sensitivity around this. So we had to create these very safe boundaries where we knew that if things got heated, we were still in a safe space. And we didn’t want to walk on eggshells around each other about these things. One of the things that really helped is that Mousa Hussein Kraish, who plays the Palestinian Juliano and Karim Saleh, who plays the Israeli Juliano, had known each other from the first film that they did together, which was Steven Spielberg’s Munich when they played two of the September 7. And they knew each other since then and had been in a couple of things together and had both sworn off of playing roles as quote unquote terrorists. I mean, they didn’t want to get typecast in this kind of garbage anymore where they just play those characters. And a lot of the film is about that – like what were the roles that were available to Middle Eastern actors in the 1980s and nineties? Because Juliano himself was an actor in the eighties and nineties, and the kind of stuff that he did was either playing a jihadi of some kind, right? Number one, number two, terrorist number three, whatever, or he would play an an Israeli IDF soldier.

HSB: I Love the definition where Palestinian Juliano says, “I’m a terrorist because I deliver my bombs by hand.”. How did you come up with that line?

MMD: Well again, that’s probably a line that was brought up by an actor, because I know I didn’t write that line. I know the lines that I wrote when I read it, <laughs> When I see the film, I can tell you the things that I wrote, but there’s a lot of stuff that I didn’t write. And again, it’s not because I don’t want to take responsibility and accountability. It’s because I think that this film doesn’t exist without all of those contributions. It’s really a living, breathing piece there. And there’s a lot of stuff in there that I couldn’t have written because I don’t have that experience. I don’t have the kind of vitriol against the politics of the Arab world as an Arab individual, as a Palestinian, as someone who’s Lebanese, because I haven’t had that experience. So there are things that were said that I don’t think I would’ve had the right to even say. I could never have even written them because I don’t have that experience. It’s not even necessary to pick out which ones or whose, it’s just that this film doesn’t happen without the contribution in the room. The film is both the making of, and the film itself because you’re watching us make it.

HSB: Well, you know, you went into one of the most universal and controversial themes in all of the world and you let the players evolve with it. Right? And it’s an intriguing process.

Writer/Director Michael Moshe Dahan

MMD: Yeah. Because they knew sometimes more than I did. And I feel like I’d studied it for a decade and I was born in Jerusalem, but they still had a lot to bring to this that I couldn’t have done without. I couldn’t have done it all by myself. And I’m happy about that. I think there was a kind of security to know that there were people there who could say, you know, well that’s not how it happened. We even had an interview a few weeks ago or a month and a half ago with a journalist who asked us, “well what does this line mean? I want to hear what each of you thinks.” And I’m telling you, we each had absolutely contradictory interpretations of what the line meant. In fact, we got into an argument, and the interview ended on an argument because we couldn’t come to an agreement about what it meant. Right? It was like I had my own reading. The actor who said it had their own reading. He’s like, no, no, no; that’s not at all what I thought when I was saying that. So, you know, conflict is baked into this.

YES REPEAT NO‘s 2023 Film Festival Run

In the U.S., the movie ran at the Omaha Film Festival, the Beverly Hills Film Festival, the Palm Beach International Film Festival and the New York City Independent Film Festival. It also ran at the Pasadena International Film Festival where it was nominated both for Best Feature and Best Director.

In Europe it screened at the European Independent Film Festival (ECU) and won the award for Best Non-European Dramatic Feature. In addition it played at the Social World Film Festival in Naples Italy where it was nominated for Best Feature, Best Director and Best Screenplay and won for Best Actress (Salome Azizi) and Best Editing (Benjamin Shearn and Alex Tyson).

Our interview with Michael Moshe Dahan on was on July 6th ahead of the film’s scheduled screening at the Stony Brook Film Festival at Stony Brook University, on Long Island in New York, July 27:

HSB: So you teach at Emerson College?

MMD: Emerson has a campus in Los Angeles. Their main university is in Boston, but they do have an LA campus where I get to just teach. It’s almost like a lab for teaching and we have a lot of autonomy. You know, we just get to come up with really interesting classes that we can try out with the students.

HSB: So you’ll feel right at home at Stony Brook when you screen there?

MMD: I’m very happy that we’re we’re showing it there. From what I’ve heard, it’s a very incredible community. And honestly, it’s a great part of the country. I’m excited to go back.

HSB: And I guess it’ll be good for their festival. I believe the head of the film program at Stony Brook is Christine Vachon and it’s like a film studies program under their arts department. It would be very interesting to see what she has to say about your film. I think that’s a good place to land just because she’s there – as she’s one of my heroes. She was just given a special tribute at the Karlovy Vary Film Festival.

MMD: I’m excited that we’re showing the film there. You know, it seems like such an interesting community. I think university audiences tend to be very informed about culture. And I really like the way that they engage with this kind of material. But another nice thing about that, is it’s all in one room. They have one theater that they show most of the stuff in. And it’s a good room. I mean, as a filmmaker, you want to see your film play in a good room with good sound. And, you know, a lot of festivals these days are happening in like, multiplexes that they just rent, for a week or two. So it’s really nice when there’s a dedicated theater, that is dedicated for that specific event for that week. I know they do things other parts of the year, but they’ve really stepped up in terms of wanting the quality control to be really high.

HSB: Updating this story (July 30):

YES REPEAT NO won the Jury Award for Best Feature at Stony Brook! Up to now the work, which has screened at eight festivals, has won a Best Feature award at two and was nominated at two others. Perhaps a film festival in Israel or another country in the Middle East will now be brave enough to show this film.

New Jack Swing Icons Evoke Nostalgia at LA Optometrist Home Concert, A Unique Live Music Experience

“Summer Jam” featured JJ Fad, Christopher Williams, California Dreams, Bryan Abrams, and more

In what is uniquely Angeleno, Rowland Heights optometrist Dr Alex Corbin Liu’s private “Summer Jam” entertainment lineup set a gold standard for user experience and entertainment. It will likely become a blueprint for future live music experiences going forward, as users get tired of impersonal stadium tours to watch their favorite artists with meltdowns on the online ticketing front. 

It only makes sense. The music industry peaked in its commercial success, dollar amount haul and subsequent quality in the 80s and 90s. Children of those eras who watched the growth of music phenomena from their startup artists struggling in the streets to hitting it big on the Billboard charts. These young music fans have now grown up to become our society’s most valuable professionals in their middle age.

One of these professionals include organizer and optometrist-by-trade, Alex Liu, who has been using the draw of celebrities, not only to drum up business for his optometry practice, but more importantly, to bring awareness to the youth of his communities in San Gabriel Valley, about the dangers of drugs and to foster positive role models. He has done this by hosting conversations between many professional athletes, his clients, and children in local schools. His office also has the best swag giveaways: autographed jerseys for his clientele.

Alex said about the event, “I am blessed with a great family and team (including coordinator Jennifer David) that help support me to bring close friends together. My kids are gifted musicians and I love to share these experiences with them while they are young. There are many challenges behind the scenes to set up these parties but the relationships built with the bands, artists and vendors as we prepare for an event of this caliber is special.”

The “Summer Jam” is now on its 2nd year, an event that started out as a birthday present to his wife but has evolved into the event no one wants to miss: a lineup of great New Jack Swing artists, tailored to the era of his own childhood. Set in the Desi Arnaz ranch estate, every guest was allowed ample time to eat delicious food and mingle with celebrities.

I caught up with event and music director and co-organizer Jennie Kwan of California Dreams after the event and she shared that the “home concert” experience was gaining in popularity especially after Pandemic as audiences were searching “to connect to nostalgia, to have these things that are familiar, evoking feelings that made people feel happy or free or nostalgic. This is our job. It’s a gift to be able to translate that and express that.”

People from all walks of life and professional industries gathered on time to greet and cheer for the first performer, LV, also known as Large Variety, the singing voice behind the late Coolio’s 1995 Grammy Award winning smash, “Gangsta’s Paradise”.

The entertainment continued through the evening, from R&B crooner Christopher Williams famous for his music and acting in “New Jack City”, California Dreams’ Jennie Kwan and Kelly Packard, AC/DC drummer Simon Wright and the featured guest of the evening, Color Me Badd’s original lead singer Bryan Abrams, performing 3 of his band’s biggest chart-topping hits, “I Adore Mi Amor”, “I Wanna Sex You Up” and “All 4 Love”. and various covers including “I’m Yours” by Jason Mraz.

During the event, it was announced that Abrams won an Emmy for his short documentary “Flowers In The Addict: The Bryan Abrams Story” highlighting his battle with addiction and subsequent recovery. He spoke briefly in an emotional moment, paying tribute to his wife for inspiring his recovery and the documentary.

The musical highlight was the closing act, JJ Fad, a Rialto based girl group, who closed out the set. What exactly made them the quintessential performance of the evening? They played their quintessential hit “Supersonic”, a song with an amazing history. It was a hit that their producer Arabian Prince of N.W.A. (who was also in attendance) found unprecedented indie success with and led him to leave N.W.A. That same song was also a target of a lawsuit in the 2000s which Arabian Prince won against Fergie and Will.I.Am’s “Fergalicious”. Sometimes it takes time but the good guys win in the end.

The “Supersonic” performance along with their set which included a mashup of covers like Montell Jordan’s “This Is How We Do It” captured the energy of the room, not only from the nostalgic audience but for the performers who were connected to fans of that era. JJ Fad’s humility shined as they demonstrated great self awareness through their joyous exuberant performance. Their local Rialto connection need not even mentioned, it was felt by the audience. These were our hometown girls 

In a world of on-demand entertainment, the stakes are definitely higher for a personalized and memorable experience. Music and entertainment director Jennie Kwan along with Dr Alex knew exactly how to keep the audience engaged and entertained, curating a show with ear-perking highlights, and most importantly connecting performers with the right audiences, while simultaneously providing an intimate enough experience for about 100 people in a space that allowed for mingling inside and outside. Add access to a delicious taco truck, Wings Zone Redlands chicken wings, Krumblez Cookie Co., Porto’s catering and an open bar, and a simple Photo Booth, in the backdrop of Desi Arnaz’s ranch estate and you have plenty of options for the attendees.

Photo: Eddie Carrillo @shuttershoted

Audiences are looking for these extras on top of the standard musical experience. Most people are tired of paying hundreds or thousands of dollars on tickets to be herded into stadiums like cattle to hear their favorite artists give mediocre performances in faraway stadiums. Inadvertently, the organizers of this have tapped into what people want. Maybe it’s because they actually care about giving people a truly memorable experience? While there will always be room for big stadium concerts, the VIP, genre-specific, nostalgia-invoking, home or salon concert has a bright future as a growing outlet for legacy performers and their loyal fanbases to connect and make lifetime memories.

Marc Ang ( is a community organizer in Southern California and the founder of Asian Industry B2B. He has written many pieces on pop culture and it’s context in the world and politics with a different “minority” angle. Marc’s boo“Minority Retort” was released on November 9, 2022 through Trinity Broadcasting Network available on Amazon, Target, Barnes & Noble and many more outlets.

All photos unless otherwise noted are courtesy of Marc Ang.

Sangemini Classic – Classical Music Festival That Crosses Boundaries Celebrates 23rd Edition

The Sangemini Classic, an intimate, true art testival will be held from July 23 to August 12, 2023. Now in its 23rd edition, the festival is themed “BEYOND the limit…Peace.”

“The theme was suggested after an accident, after which I could have become disabled,” says Vania Liurni, creator of the Festival. “And this combination of real life and music immediately seemed relevant to me. Our festival is appreciated by national and international musicians, and many artists are in Umbria for the first time to present their works.”

The 23rd edition of the Sangemini Classic is organized thanks to contributions and sponsorships from the Fondazione Cassa di Risparmio di Terni e Narni, the Region of Umbria, the Municipality of Terni, the Municipality of San Gemini, and the Chamber of Commerce of Umbria. Organized by the Cultural Association Nuova Tradizione Musicale, in technical collaboration with the Municipality of San Gemini and in partnership with the Grand Hotel San Gemini, topics such as disability and autism, linked to spirituality, the Divine and overcoming the limit of the human body and mind will be covered.

July 23rd kicks off in Piazza Duomo with the “la Nota in più” Symphony Orchestra of Bergamo and music therapy. The prestigious orchestra of autistic children with its teachers and operators has more than 90 concerts to its credit in premier venues and with prestigious artists.

July 31st from Switzerland comes Silke Pan, the disabled Swiss acrobat, followed by Verona arena dancers Luca Condello and Elisa Cipriani, along with Virna Liurni’s expressive and sensory piano, Linu’s and the Street Circus.

August 6th will feature the Neapolitan song with tenor Rosario Totaro. The musical history of Naples will be sung, with readings from the book Porte Chiuse, Letter to Parents by writer Giovanna Tatò, a RAI journalist. There will also be a performance of Ave Maria.

On August 12th, the festival will close with From Meditation to Jubilation. Performing will be the FVG Fondazione Santa Cecilia trumpet ensemble, conducted by Giovanni Vello.

Luciano Clementella, Mayor of San Gemini, confirms how the festival is in symbiosis with the locality, included among the most beautiful villages in Italy, “Twenty-three editions are not few. The festival grows year by year, and the creator manages to reconcile various aspects related to music, such as disability this year.”

For Federica Montagnoli, City Councilor for Culture adds, “Going beyond one’s limits is also an extended message. The Festival shows how to do inclusion, and it is unique even compared to the programming of other municipalities. It is the highlight of Sangemini summer events.”