After making it to the semi-finals at the Raindance Film Festival (the largest indie film festival in the UK), Coverfly's scores for Disrupture reached new heights.
Thanks so much to Lee Howard at The Day, Southern Connecticut's newspaper, for writing this really beautiful piece about ¡Come!
You can read it at this link or see the text below
Filmmaker Ross Morin of Mystic, a professor at Connecticut College, is perhaps best known for edgy psychological thrillers, but it was a short 10-minute film about a girl who feels rejected because of cultural differences that landed his independent production company its biggest honor yet: a spot in the lineup of offerings by Home Box Office.
HBO Films bought the Kiltered Productions short "¡Comé! (Eat!)" after a sales representative from Premium Films in Paris saw it at a Midwest film festival. Morin served as first assistant director of the bilingual film, produced by the independent company that Morin and business partner Matt Herbertz formed several years ago.
Herbertz served as director of photography for the film, and Morin and he secured the services of a Mexican-American director, Lizette Barrera, to bring the story to life. The screenplay was written by Pamela Rodriguez, a young woman of Puerto Rican descent.
"It was the first time Kiltered Productions had sought out a writer or director," Morin said in a phone interview. "Kiltered Productions is committed to giving a voice to underrepresented people both in front of and behind the camera."
The film was shot in 2019 over a two-day period in Lakeland, Fla., before the pandemic. Pre-production planning, Morin said, took about a half year, which included casting, fundraising and identifying major crew members.
The movie featured a wide range of Latinx actors and crew from across the country who brought their own personal experiences onto the set and to the film.
"It was important for us to have a crew who could tell a story about a young Puerto Rican woman," Morin said. "It was a beautiful collaboration."
The autobiographical story revolves around a 12-year-old Puerto Rican girl whose perspective changes when she brings a popular dessert dish, Arroz con Leche, to a Thanksgiving event at her school and no one eats it. The girl's teacher comes to her aid, helping her understand that being different isn't necessarily bad; sometimes differences can be special.
The film did well as a short at more than 20 festivals around the country that agreed to show it, setting in motion negotiations that led to Kiltered Productions and HBO signing a three-year deal to air the film on HBO and HBO Max. The short started streaming in July.
"It's a really small company," Morin said of Kiltered Productions. "We've just been doing these projects out of love. It wasn't in our dreams or imagination that our film would be on HBO. We're not doing this for the money. There's no money in shorts."
As first assistant director, Morin planned and scheduled every shot, managing the cast and crew and keeping everyone on schedule.
"Working at Connecticut College affords me the opportunity of working summers on projects," Morin said. "I start a project every summer and cut (edit) during the winter. I was doing a film a year for a time until COVID. COVID has thrown that off."
He says having a production company puts him at the nexus of being a business person and an artist.
"You can't just be one or the other," he said. "You can't just have an idea and make a movie. You have to know how to budget time and be meticulously organized."
This week I am off to my first film festival in quite some time, the 24th annual Long Island International Film Expo, where our film, Hide or Seek, is an official selection. A bunch of cast and crew will be in attendance and I'm so looking forward to reconnecting with them. We shot this movie in January 2020, just before the pandemic hit hard, and it will be incredible to reunite!
The film is written and directed by my good friend, Brian Newell, and I served as Producer, 1st Assistant Director, and Editor. Brian and I have been making films together since we were undergrads at Connecticut College. Since then, he's edited my films, Ad Noctum, A Wheel out of Kilter, and A Peculiar Thud. I'm so happy I could edit his film in return!
The film screens at the Long Island International Film Expo this Thursday, August 12 at 4:45pm and you can buy tickets here.
I am overjoyed to share the good news that our newest Kiltered Productions film, ¡Come! (Eat!) has been purchased by HBO and is currently streaming on HBO Max! We shot the film (I also served as the 1st Assistant Director) in 2019 and after a healthy film festival run over the past year, it was acquired by Premium Films (from Paris, which is exciting enough!). They got it in front of HBO and an offer was made.
Selling a film to HBO is the new high point of my career and I'm so proud to have been a part of this project. You can learn more about it and the people involved on our Facebook page. I am indebted to my Kiltered Productions partner, Matthew Herbertz, for all of his brilliant and determined producing work to get this project started, the team assembled, and has seen it through to the very end.
My new screenplay, Disrupture, was awarded first place in the 16th annual International Horror and Sci-Fi Film Festival's screenplay competition. It's really exciting to have submitted my screenplay as a standalone work and to see it win an award like this. Thanks to Leigh Ann and the jurors at IHSFF and the Phoenix Film Festival.
And... I have reached Picture Lock on Hide or Seek! After half a year of editing, I am turning the film back over to Brian who will send it out for Sound Mix and Color Grading. Editing is always a long journey, even on a short film and it is a relief to let go.
This has truly been one of the saddest years of many of our lives - I am grateful that I've had this project to help me cope. I've managed to feel like I was doing something productive and collaborative. Thanks, Brian, for the opportunity to work with you again. You are a great friend.
Here's a picture of my manic exhaustion and one of an overview of the timeline.
Since I'm not able to shoot any films right now, I've finalized two screenplays that I've been working on for a few years. I've just submitted the scripts to festivals and competitions as standalone works. Disrupture is a gay home invasion movie, in the vein of A Peculiar Thud but with even more violence, action, and queer politics. All Are Welcome is a gay drama that Matthew Herbertz and I have been working on for years that continues our work with mental illness, obsession, and trauma. I'm looking forward to seeing how these films do as scripts and I can't wait to direct them in the coming years.
The pandemic has cancelled all of my film production plans this fall, which (aside from the far more serious tragedy this year has brought) is disappointing for me. However, it has opened up the doors to deepen my collaboration with Brian Newell on our film Hide or Seek. In January, I served as 1st Assistant Director and Producer on the film, and now, with an open calendar, I've agreed to serve as Editor and Sound Designer. The work starts today!
What a joy to continue working with Brian - we've been making films for nearly 20 years now, since we were undergrads at Connecticut College. In the past ten years, Brian has edited most of my films (Ad Noctum, A Peculiar Thud, A Wheel out of Kilter), and I'm looking forward to repaying the favor with this work.
So begins the longest part of the filmmaking process... We are hopeful we'll have a complete cut of the film in February 2021.
After wrapping on ¡Come! this summer, I began the process of producing a film called Hide or Seek. It is written and directed by my friend and collaborator, Brian Newell (editor of Ad Noctum, A Wheel out of Kilter, and A Peculiar Thud). We shot the film in January where I also served as the 1st Assistant Director. I had two of my former students, Christian Vazquez and Charlie Losiewicz, on the AD team with me and they were incredible. I'm so excited to see where this terrifying and funny film goes in the next two years! Here are some photos from the shoot:
I've fallen behind in updating my website and in sharing the exciting news about My Florida Home (which I edited and co-produced). We've been accepted to a number of festivals around the country. Congrats to Matt who wrote and directed this beautiful film. It's still under review and touring but here are the festivals so far:
In a Landscape, Dreaming finished up its festival tour in the most beautiful way. Thanks to the support of Connecticut College, I was able to take my three former students (with whom I made the film) to the Artist's Forum Festival of the Moving Image in NYC where the film was nominated for Best Music Video and Best Cinematography. After a day of press interviews and networking with other filmmakers we attended our screening, did a q&a, and were awarded Best Music Video. I'm so proud to have worked with these three amazing people and so thankful to Connecticut College and the Sidney E. Frank Foundation for their support in making this film.
The film ended up the official selection of 12 festivals, it won two awards (including Best Foreign Film in India!) and was nominated for three others. Here's the list:
Artists Forum Festival of the Moving Image. New York, NY. 2019. Winner - Best Music Video, Nominated – Best Cinematography
Pune Short Film Festival. Pune, India. 2019. Winner - Best Foreign Film
ABQ Indie Film Festival. Albuquerque, NM. 2019. Nominated – Best Experimental Film
Northeast Mountain Film Festival. Dillard, GA. 2019. Nominated – Best Experimental Film
Utah Film Festival and Awards. Vineyard, UT. 2019. Semi-finalist
Tallahassee Film Festival. Tallahassee, FL. 2019
Kansas City Film Festival International. Kansas City, MO. 2019
Solaris Film Festival. Nice, France. 2019
Oaxaca FilmFest. Oaxaca, Mexico. 2019
University Film and Video Association Conference. Minneapolis, MN. 2019
St. Cloud Film Festival. St. Cloud, MN. 2019
Blow-up International Arthouse Film Festival. Chicago, IL. 2019
¡Come! is Kiltered Productions' newest short film. The screenplay is written by one of Matt's students and the crew is largely comprised of students from Florida Southern College. We hired Lizette Barrera to direct the film and I ran the set as the 1st Assistant Director. Aside from managing a 30 person crew, I coordinated over 60 extras (most of them children!) with an incredible 2nd Assistant Director, Bianca Vargas (from whom I learned so much). It was one of the most difficult things I've ever done but it was exhilarating and rewarding. I can't wait to see what happens with this new project. Here are some photos from the shoot:
I have just returned from Minneapolis with the most amazing news. This Friday I was honored with this year's University Film and Video Association's Award of Teaching Excellence for Senior Faculty. It is the most important teaching award I could possibly win in my field and, to me, the highest honor as a teacher I can dream of.
The UFVA is the international organization for the entire field of filmmaking teachers across the world. It is the largest and oldest academic organization for filmmaking professors who teach anything related to film or video production like screenwriting, cinematography, directing, sound or editing, and it also consists of film studies professors who teach history, theory, philosophy and criticism of film.
It all feels insane, unreal. Like a dream.
"Senior faculty" doesn't sound like me (I just turned 36), and I wasn't sure if the UFVA would give credence to a small college in Connecticut. I decided to try to stand out by emphasizing my commitment to social justice through filmmaking and I was thrilled to see in their letter to me: "The committee was impressed with the rigor, thoroughness, and thoughtfulness of your materials and teaching philosophy and your work toward creating an inclusive classroom in your teaching."
I’m sharing a video of my acceptance speech. At the end of the video, I hug a former student and friend, Matt, and I love that that’s how the video ends.
Thank you to all my friends and family, and my students and teachers who have given me so much to live for and so much love to give back.
More screenings to announce!
This weekend, the second international film festival acceptance of IN A LANDSCAPE, DREAMING at the 9th annual Pune Short Film Festival in Pune, India. The festival will take place June 7-11, 2019. Thanks so much to Yogesh, and the team at Pune Short Film Festival!
And next week it's screening at the Northeast Mountain Film Festival in Dillard, Georgia from June 14-16, 2019. Looks like an amazing festival. Thanks so much to entire team at the Northeast Mountain Film Festival!
My newest film is off to France! I'm proud to announce the first international film festival acceptance of IN A LANDSCAPE, DREAMING at the Solaris Film Festival in Nice this weekend. Thanks Solaris for screening our work!
I'm so very proud to announce my student Sam Simonds won the Oakes and Louise Ames Prize for Outstanding Honors Study at Connecticut College this year! I have never worked so hard with a student on anything in my life and I have never seen a student pull off such an incredible feat. I'm so, so proud that he received this honor.
Excerpts from the Commencement text:
Samuel Simonds, Film Studies major, is awarded the Oakes and Louise Ames Prize for his honors thesis in the Department of Film Studies, “Smoke of the Sea: A’Tolan Amis Resistance to Colonized Consciousness Through Resurgence of Traditional Epistemologies, Contemporary Existence and Collective Community.” A multipart creative project, Simonds’ thesis culminated in a short dramatic fiction film that explores the complexities of death, sickness, rebirth and reconciliation within a community whose cultural identity has been damaged by colonization and Western influence, and yet endures.
Set in Taiwan, Smoke of the Sea tells the story of a young girl who is dying from a mysterious sickness and must journey into the world of her Amis ancestors to rediscover her connection with herself, the land, and her culture to find a cure. The work is deeply spiritually introspective, using irony and humor to engage with those from Westernized perspectives. It challenges Western perceptions of health and science as practices based on observable truths in the physical world and explores how “old” traditional ways can be corrupted by capitalism, technology and U.S. culture, but also how they can endure and adapt to new influences and modern-day life.
The film was shot in Dulan, Taipei and Taitung City, Taiwan. It stars Amis actors from Dulan and is based on personal stories and accounts from many of the stars and crew of the film as well as cultural histories from elders of the Dulan Amis community. The dialogue is in three languages—Taiwanese, Mandarin and Amis—and Simonds worked with 26 actors, including children, and 31 crew members, many of whom speak Mandarin or Amis exclusively, to create the work.
In addition to the final film, Simonds’ thesis work consists of 15 unique screenplay drafts in English and five additional drafts in Mandarin; a 300 page document containing a producer’s notebook, a director’s notebook and a publicity campaign; and an immersive anthropological research experience. Chair of the Film Studies Department and Associate Professor of Film Studies, Ross Morin, who served as Simonds’ thesis adviser, describes the scope and quality of the project as unprecedented and exceptional. “It is beyond the undergraduate level, it is beyond the graduate level; it is at the professional level,” Morin said. “Sam has put the liberal arts into action as a global citizen as a storyteller, as a businessperson, as a manager, as a researcher and as an artist … if I had to guess, I would say that I will never again see a project of this level of ambition or execution in my career.”