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Director Series-Sundance Directors

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The Sundance Film Festival a broad scope of visions from some of the most creative filmmakers working today. Two young directors, Marco Kreuzpaintner from Germany and Alfredo De Villa from Mexico, chose to focus their unique perspectives on stories set in America.TradeDirected with a sensitivity to a subject matter that could be exploitative while drawing subtle performances from young and veteran actors alike, Trade marks the American debut of Kreuzpaintner, whose second feature, Summer Storm, garnered the German Film Award (Germany’s Oscar) for Best Young Director. Based on Peter Landesman’s provocative New York Times Magazine cover story, the film reveals the underground crime network of sex trafficking where young women and even adolescent boys are kidnapped, drugged into submission and smuggled into the US and sold into sex slavery, often disappearing forever. This story follows the plight of an innocent 13-year-old (Paulina Gaitan) abducted from a squalid Mexico City barrio and the desperate attempts of her street-smart, 17-year-old brother (Cesar Ramos) to rescue her, aided by a world-weary Texas investigator (Kevin Kline) searching for his own daughter.Below the Line: You have an interest in films with complex characters and stories with a political background. What attracted you to the script of The Girls Next Door, which eventually became Trade?Marco Kreuzpaintner: The title Trade alludes to capitalism. If there is a need for something, then people are selling it. I was affected by the fact that this [sex trade] was going on in the western world in huge numbers. And it was happening next door. That was a shocker to me.BTL: What do you like about working with cinematographer, Daniel Gottschalk?Kreuzpaintner: He has worked on all my movies and is my closest partner. In doing a movie in another language, it was especially important to have him as a backup, because I knew I could rely on him. He always questions me as to what is the center of the scene. We start from there and build the whole scene around that. He gives the actors a lot of freedom, which is important for me to get the best performance. He does not push them into a certain way of working the room because the light is only here and there. It gives them a 360-degree freedom in which they can follow their own process.BTL: Do you work with shot lists or storyboards?Kreuzpaintner: Usually I don’t. Performance scenes always change. The script is the bottom line. From there you start with the actors. If something is not working or sounds phony, I change it. I need the freedom to be flexible in how the scene is shot. In the morning I do some basic shots, but then I try to be inspired by the performance, the location, the weather. There are so many factors.BTL: How do you establish the film’s look?Kreuzpaintner: We do camera tests, but we always had a video camera with us, so from early on we felt that the style should not overwhelm the story. A handheld camera is the normal way to be faster and more direct with what the actors are doing.BTL: How did you find your production designer?Kreuzpaintner: I did a big “casting” for production designers, because so far, I had not found someone that I was really happy with. Bernt Capra came in. He didn’t have the best portfolio or a long list of experience, even though he has done movies that I admire like What’s Eating Gilbert Grape, but his personality was right for this movie. BTL: How do you work with your editor, Hansjörg Weissbrich? Kreuzpaintner: He is like the second director. I leave a lot up to him. I don’t like to be a control freak. I come into the edit room every couple of days and stay a couple of hours. He shows me what he’s done, I give him notes and then I leave. I hate to sit all day going back and forth trimming frames. You have to trust your editor. Don’t use them as your extended arm. Use their creativity. BTL: Did anyone else go above and beyond the call of duty?Kreuzpaintner: My producer, Roland Emmerich. He told me to go out, make the movie, don’t bore me, follow your instincts and don’t do something just because the market wants it. Adrift in ManhattanAdrift in Manhattan, the third feature from Alfredo de Villa, the Hispanic writer/director of Washington Heights and Yellow, features raw, challenging performances from a cast that includes Heather Graham, William Baldwin, Dominic Chianese, Elizabeth Peña and Victor Rasuk. Deftly directing multiple story lines thematically tied through “sight,” de Villa intertwines the stories of three characters isolated by their personal tragedies in the sea of humanity that is New York City. Through life-altering encounters with strangers they intersect on their daily routes, they ultimately find the hope to move on with their lives.BTL: You have a tendency to work with the same crew.Alfredo De Villa: Once I get comfortable with somebody, they’re in for the long run. They have to be comfortable with me of course, but that’s a different story. I’ve edited three movies with John Coniglio. Now I am at a point that I trust him. I took a vacation while he finished the assembly, which was 2 hours and 20 minutes—obviously long. I want to commit suicide when I see a first assembly. Then we got down to the standard process of weeding out things that don’t work. We spent three months full-time editing.Production designer Charlotte Bourke has done the three movies with me. On my first movie—a $300,000 movie—the film was clearly below her budget. She’s production-designed 22 films. I liked that she incorporates her past work into new films. BTL: This was the first time that you worked with cinematographer John Foster.De Villa: I used Claudio Chea for my first two movies, but he was shooting El Cantante, so I went with John, who I fell in love with. I can’t imagine the movie without him. He’s shot an amazing amount of movies, including a film that won Sundance called Sunday. That movie was an inspiration for this film. Visually I used it as a case study. I always share references, because visuals speak a million words. When I couldn’t get Claudio, I went to the NY 411 and found John’s phone number. I called him. He was shocked, but asked for a script. I sent one by e-mail. The next day he called me to say, “I’m in.”BTL: Did you assemble a photographic storyboard? De Villa: Exactly. It helps a lot. Once you’re into the insanity of production and you have forgotten about that location, you open your computer and the initial excitement comes back and all the stress of production goes out the window, because you can visually hang onto your idea.This was a low-budget film. The head of departments were great—John, Charlotte, the A.D., Jose Marinari, and the costume designer, Julia Michelle Santiago. We couldn’t afford the crew that we wanted. We picked people we could bring up, but it was hard for the department heads because they had to stop and teach a lot on an 18-day shoot.BTL: How did you workout using still photography with the live action?De Villa: A fashion photographer, Sam Fisher, wanted to do this type of photography, but with an aesthetic sense. For scenes that John shot, Sam shot the stills on the same axis, using the same lenses. In editing we explored using the real shots from Sam and freezing the frame. Ultimately freezing the frame worked best. We used 2 frames of black to give the sense of shutter and we skipped about 8-16 frames of the action, which jumps, but it’s subtle and gives a real sense of still. I wish I could take credit, but that was really John, the editor. Sam’s terrific photos were used for props in the movie.

Written by Mary Ann Skweres

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