Currently viewing the tag: "independent film"


By Jeanne Ferris

Keira Knightley appears in Official Secrets by Gavin Hood, an official selection of the Premieres program at the 2019 Sundance Film Festival. Courtesy of Sundance Institute.

LA JOLLA — The Film Insider Series saw the golden sun lower its languorous, warm rays on Arclight Terrace — allowing the stars to come out and play for a special screening of Official Secrets.

Fit, in a taupe dress shirt with grey denim pants and sporting rock star hair — Gavin Hood was in the house. The South African born, Oscar-winning director of Tsotsi flew in to attend the exclusive Official Secrets. And it was much appreciated.

Hood and Tonya Mantooth, CEO and executive artistic director of San Diego International Film Festival (SDIFF), were in the spotlight and joined by local luminary Naila Chowdhury, director of social impact and innovation at UC San Diego and a new SDIFF board member.

Everywhere you looked, the lights reflected back from the crowds of dark stylish shades – the literati and glitterati.

Madame and messieurs: sweet summer has finally arrived in the Jewel that others call La Jolla.

SDIFF cofounder Kevin Leap was seen sharing celebratory smiles with Film Insider Series devotees comprised of stellar volunteers, anonymous benefactors, fabulous patrons of the arts, international press corps, Hollywood studio producers, and they-who-support-the-machine: cinephiles, as those with a passionate interest in cinema are sometimes called.

Anticipation was high for the screening of the political thriller that stars Keira Knightly and the buzz rose with each guest arriving. Food was plentiful with pints of Stella Artois, gourmet wine, Urban Leaf elixirs, and Liberty Call Distilling Co., and appetizers from Eureka, Craft pizza, Frill, and the Melting Pot. The evening’s presenting sponsors were Morgan Stanley, Procopio, and Maserati. The dress was decidedly San Diego glam: sleek business casual and envious haute couture — all waiting for magic hour.

Official Secrets saw its world premiere at Sundance Film Festival where it won the Audience Award. Massachusetts’s own Provincetown International Film Festival awarded it Best Narrative Feature.

Director Gavin Hood, Katherine Gun and Martin Bright
Courtesy of eventbrite.com

Based on real interviews with British Intelligence whistleblower Katherine Gun, played by Knightly, the story revolved around a leaked memo to the press. It contained a directive of an illegal NSA spy operation designed to push the United Nations Security Council into sanctioning the 2003 invasion of Iraq.

An Oscar and BAFTA nominee, Knightley also was nominated as best actress for Pride and Prejudice by Boston Society of Film Critics. And of course, by association with an international director: sometimes cast and crew read like a passenger manifest from the QEII.

British thespian Ralph (Rafe, like safe) Fiennes shares the screen with Knightley, playing a steely barrister. Boston showed its approval when the film critics awarded Fiennes Best Supporting Actor for Schindler’s List.

Also from across the pond: London educated, handsome (unrecognizable with a buzz cut) Matthew Goode dubbed a rising star by Brits — is a Primetime Emmy nominee and an Aussie awards fave. Serious Welshman, Rhys Ifans (Ee-vans), a BAFTA winner, adds his shape shifter persona as an f-bombing guerrilla journalist. Adam Bakri, a young Palestinian auteur, plays Knightley’s husband. Estonia (yes, the country) bequeathed Bakri with Tallinn Black Nights Festival Jury Prize Best Actor.

Afterward, Tonya moderated an uproarious Q & A with Hood, a candid raconteur: “[My] Eye in the Sky producer contacted me and asked if I had heard of Katherine Gun. I said no and he replied, ‘Google her and call me back.’ ”

“I called back and asked if I could meet her. We met in London and spent five days talking. As a former lawyer, I can assure you this is deeply and accurately researched and part of the challenge in writing this story is that all the people in the movie are still alive. We shot the film in 36 days. What attracted me to this story is loyalty. Her loyalty — to her conscience, her husband, and to the British people. She insisted that it was for the British people she worked for and not the government. When I asked if Keira would consider it… She said, ‘I want a role with substance and not heavily made up with a corset.’” The audience of course, laughed on cue.

At the post screening champagne and Cookies by Cravory reception: Cookie monsters, red carpet selfies and corner table conversations regarding the upcoming SDIFF are bandied about. Plans are made to attend exclusive screenings, biz card flurries, and cinephiles audibly declare their passion for film with promises to reunite on October 15 to 20, 2019.

Until then—ladies and gentlemen, it’s a wrap! www.sdfilmfest.com

Rated R for language, release date: August 30, 2019  

“I’m so happy I could cry,” begins the most recent Facebook post from Becki Dennis.  “I just found out that I received the Best Actress Award at the Boston International Film Festival and our Director, Eric R. Eastman, has also won a well-deserved Indie Spirit Recognition Award!”

Dennis played the lead role in the new indie film “Spin The Plate,” which recently premiered at the Boston International Film Festival. In a plot twist of her own, she was not able to attend the screening as she was working on her new film, “Justine” in Los Angeles, which she now calls home. A recent transplant, she was amazed to discover how many other Bostonians, who like her have been performing their whole lives, have packed their bags for the City of Angels, where people really do become stars of the screen and stage.

Dennis has been performing since she was a kid, always in dance and theater productions and always drawn to the performing arts. She caught the acting bug pretty hard in high school and wanted to major in musical theater in college.  After three years at Point Park University in Pittsburgh, she came back to Boston, took an acting class at Emerson, a music class at Berklee and did an acting/directing course at Boston University.

She worked as an actor and performer for several years in the Boston market and one lucky day was recommended to David O. Russell for a speaking role in a major film.

“Filmmakers started to shoot more in Boston so I started to show up as an extra and really fell in love with being on a film set. I started to do commercials, training videos, short films, things like that-then came my first big break, which was “American Hustle.”

After being cast in another blockbuster film, “Ted 2” which was also shot in Boston, Dennis decided that she no longer wanted to be a big fish in a small pond and in order to branch out to bigger markets she had to make the move.  It has paid off. Landing the role of Jo in “Spin the Plate” was a turning point for Dennis.

“I always thought I couldn’t act in film or TV because you had to look like a model. Lead roles for plus size women have not come around too often in the past, unless it’s like the butt of the joke or something, but times are changing so to get to play something so complex and interesting is a gift.”

Dennis has gone on to have parts in 15 television shows in two years, though she started out slow and had to build up a portfolio of work to get to where she is now. Since she is in the middle of filming the feature film “Justine”  there is not a lot she can tell us yet about her new role.

“It’s a supporting role, it’s a good role and toward the end of the film, I play a nurse, and there’s a really interesting scene. The writer, director and lead actress is Stephanie Turner, who wrote the script when she was in the Sundance Screenwriters lab. Hopefully it’s Sundance bound…hoping it can be the next ‘LadyBird’ or something.”

Meanwhile, she and her husband are embracing the good life and the abundance of sunshine in LA but when asked what she misses most about the East Coast, besides her family, she immediately responds with “really good Italian food in the North End.”

As one bi-coastal resident to another, I say, “Amen to that.”