For a film festival that bills itself as
the "transatlantic crossroads of independent cinema,"
programming features, documentaries and shorts made in the United
States and Europe, it seems surprising that a first-time director
from Windsor Terrace would beat the global odds and take home
a gold statuette.
But on Sunday night, it was indeed the votes from the audience of the 12th annual "Avignon/New York Film Festival" that garnered Dan Eberle, 32, the "21st Century Filmmaker Award for Best U.S. Feature" for his first feature-length narrative, "JailCity."
"This is the only time I’ve ever won anything - except for academic scholarships," Eberle told GO Brooklyn. "I’m absolutely delighted. I had a feeling we would win, but I’m sure other people did too, people who had more experience or a better relationship with the press. But winning is obviously very important to my future. [Festivals] are the gatekeepers in terms of press coverage and distributors."
Eberle said the idea for the film, which he wrote and directed, stemmed from a short story he had written in his 20s.
"I was always sort of haunted by the idea of coming home after being institutionalized - not that I was You’re coming back and need to find a way to reconnect with people," said Eberle. "[In ’JailCity,’] [Nick] Bixby’s character [Hector Ramos, Jr.] is under house arrest with a father [played by Paul James Vasquez] that he doesn’t know or like very much, so he’s trying to resist this and deal with it in some way.
"Meanwhile, his father is desperate to make things better and to make up for things he’s done wrong over the yearsand my character [George Wilson] is trying to make up for being a role model for his little brother, who is dead because he was trying to be like him. The characters are trying to go back in time and fix things, and of course, you can’t. And you’ll make yourself crazy trying to do it."
Festival director Jerry Rudes told GO Brooklyn, " ’JailCity’ had a special resonance for the audience this year because of the Iraqi veteran that comes back ... and isn’t ready for any untruths or bullshit and is extremely tied to his family."
Although Eberle said he was hopeful that his movie, which was largely shot in Kensington, Windsor Terrace, Cobble Hill and Park Slope in January, would take home the Roger statuette for "Best U.S. Feature," he was afraid that its moments of violence would repel Avignon’s audience.
"The film is extremely intense," he explained. "That’s what we wanted, but the violence is such that I wasn’t sure it would resonate with an indie film crowd ... But there is a part of the film that deals with the futility of revenge, so we needed the audience to see what it is and to make it as real as possible. But there’s not very much in terms of violent acts, you’ll see more [on the television series] ’24’ than in 96 minutes of this film. But when it does happen, it is very personal and very up-close."
Eberle said he has submitted the film to many more festivals, including the Brooklyn International Film Festival, and hopes that the contacts he is making during his upcoming tour of the festival circuit will help him to secure a distributor for "JailCity" and the financing he needs to make another film in the spring. Being able to boast that he shot "JailCity" in two weeks, with a budget of $15,000 - coupled with his latest laurel - can’t help but impress fiscally conservative potential backers.
The closing night award ceremony at the Danny Kaye Playhouse in Manhattan wrapped the Avignon festival, which also paid homage to Park Slope actor-writer-director John Turturro and his directorial efforts ("Mac," "Illuminata," and the yet-to-be-released musical, "Romance and Cigarettes," which features James Gandolfini, Susan Sarandon and Kate Winslet).
At a pre-fest gala dinner on Nov. 12, Turturro was presented with Avignon’s first annual Chateuneuf-du-Pape Cinema Award. Rather than bestowing the recipient of the Cannes Film Festival’s golden camera award (for 1992’s semi-autobiographical "Mac") with yet another trophy, Avignon’s intoxicating prize entitled Turturro to a supply of wines - over the course of a decade!
Another Brooklynite feted by the Avignon festival was Park Slope director Ishai Setton, 26, whose feature film debut "The Big Bad Swim" secured the coveted opening night film slot on Nov. 15.
In Setton’s crowd-pleaser, a diverse group of adults (including Carroll Gardens’ Jess Weixler as confident beauty Jordan) gather at a suburban recreation center to learn how to swim from unflappable hunk, Noah (Jeff Branson of "All My Children").
"We selected it for the opening night film because of its warm-heartedness and humor," said Rudes. "It needed support and it should have already been picked up [by a distributor]."
The film, which was also included on the program of this spring’s Tribeca Film Festival, is currently considering several offers for distribution, according to "Big Bad Swim" producer Chandra Simon.