Back to the Blog

It’s been too long since my last entry. I’ve been busy with work, family, creative side projects and a recent bout with a stomach flu (now resolved).

Winter has given way to spring-like weather in Central New York, although I’m not hauling my winter coat to the dry cleaner just yet.

And I wanted to return to the blog because today I made some interesting visual discoveries that I wanted to share. I left my cubicle at the office this afternoon to join one of my colleagues on a B-roll video shoot at Shaffer Art Building on the campus of Syracuse University. Some College of Visual and Performing Arts’ students were working on a professional film shoot for a project written and directed by a VPA professor.

While I stood in the hallway, I took notice of my surroundings and captured these images.

Light hitting wall. Photo by Francis DiClemente.

Steenbeck. Photo by Francis DiClemente.

I was so excited to see this Steenbeck editing machine. It made me think of Martin Scorsese’s longtime editor, Thelma Schoonmaker. I’m sure she edited some projects on a Steenbeck. I actually used one when I was a graduate film student at American University in the early 1990s. The machinery is now a dinosaur in a non-linear, Adobe Premiere/Avid/Final Cut world.

The next two images were terse, profound statements that I consider poetry. The words made me stop, pay attention and ponder their meaning. I wish I had the author’s name to give proper credit and supreme praise.

Selfishness and Loneliness. Photo by Francis DiClemente.

Pray to be Loved. Photo by Francis DiClemente.

 

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Emmy Arrives

So my Emmy statuette arrived yesterday. My Real Bedford Falls documentary co-producer/director Stu Lisson was kind enough to drop it off at my apartment. He wanted to take a picture of me unboxing it, but I refused to give in to his request. I was masked and stayed on the other side of the glass in the lobby, as my son Colin is currently in isolation after testing positive for COVID for the second time in three months. (Fortunately, his symptoms are mild—knocking on the wood of my forehead.)

While walking in the hallway, carrying the rectangular box, hugging it close to my torso, I had a flash; the package reminded me of a cremation urn, similar in size and shape. It gave me pause. The object marks one of the best moments in my career, but it also foreshadows a fate I can’t escape. Dark thought, I know.

Once inside my apartment, I opened the box and took a quick glance, making sure the text at the base was correct and my name wasn’t misspelled. I then tucked it in the back of my bedroom closet, behind extra belts, pairs of long underwear, summer shirts, and miscellaneous computer cables.

Emmy statuette. Photo by Pamela DiClemente.

I didn’t even take a picture of it. And I usually do not post accolades like this on social media. The images you see here were taken by my wife Pamela, who said something like, “It’s worth celebrating. It’s a beautiful memento and you might not win another one in the future.”

I thought the same thing. I don’t want to be covetous, but the goal is to collect a couple more Emmy awards during the remainder of my career. However, I also know one regional Emmy for an indie documentary short could be it for me—marking the highest honor I will ever achieve.

Emmy statuette base. Photo by Pamela DiClemente.

And if that’s the case, I want to acknowledge the moment, let it seep in, and be grateful for it. And then get busy working on the next thing.

I’m also storing the Emmy in the closet to keep it away from Colin. If know if the hardware was left out in the open, he would grab it and line it up next to his other figures. And in a matter of time, the poor gilded woman would be wingless.

Colin’s play area. Photo by Francis DiClemente.

 

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Documentary Screening

Our independent documentary, The Real Bedford Falls: It’s a Wonderful Life, will be screened tomorrow, Dec. 11, in Seneca Falls, New York, as part of the It’s a Wonderful Life Festival. It will be shown at 1:30 p.m. at Trinity Church.

Drone photo by Chase Guttman.

Our film asks the question: Was one of the world’s most beloved motion pictures influenced by a small upstate New York town? The Real Bedford Falls: It’s a Wonderful Life is an Emmy Award-winning, half-hour documentary that explores the connections between Seneca Falls and Bedford Falls, the setting of the movie It’s a Wonderful Life.

Frank Capra, the movie’s Academy Award-winning director, was reportedly visiting relatives in Auburn, New York, when he stopped in nearby Seneca Falls to get a haircut. The barber who styled his hair recalled Capra asking many questions about the town, including, “What’s the story with that bridge?”

Fast forward to when actress Karolyn Grimes, who played Zuzu Bailey in It’s a Wonderful Life, saw Seneca Falls for the first time. With snow falling and holiday lights glittering, she exclaimed, “I’m in Bedford Falls!”

Photo by Stu Lisson.

These and many other striking relates are touched upon in The Real Bedford Falls: It’s a Wonderful Life. The documentary also examines small-town life in Seneca Falls, captures the excitement of the annual It’s a Wonderful Life Festival, and celebrates the enduring themes of the Frank Capra classic.

The Real Bedford Falls: It’s a Wonderful Life features interviews with Karolyn Grimes, Jimmy Hawkins (who played Tommy Bailey), Monica Capra Hodges, granddaughter of Frank Capra, film critic Leonard Maltin and Syracuse University professor of pop culture Robert Thompson. Former NBC Today show correspondent Bob Dotson provides the narration.

The film was produced by Honest Engine Films and distributed by Virgil Films & Entertainment. It’s available here. The cost is $2.99 on both Amazon Prime and Apple TV.

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The Real Bedford Falls Documentary Released

I just want to share the news that our independent documentary The Real Bedford Falls: It’s a Wonderful Life is now available on DVD and digital HD. The film was produced by Honest Engine Films and distributed by Virgil Films and Entertainment. It recently won a New York Emmy Award in the category of Nostalgia-Long Form Content. 

Here is the synopsis:

Was one of the world’s most beloved motion pictures influenced by a small upstate New York town? The Real Bedford Falls: It’s a Wonderful Life is an Emmy Award-winning, half-hour documentary that explores the connections between Seneca Falls, New York, and Bedford Falls, the setting of the movie It’s a Wonderful Life.

Aerial image by Chase Guttman.

The documentary examines small-town life in Seneca Falls, captures the excitement of the annual It’s a Wonderful Life Festival, and celebrates the enduring themes of the Frank Capra classic. The film features interviews with Karolyn Grimes (who played Zuzu Bailey in It’s a Wonderful Life), Jimmy Hawkins (who played Tommy Bailey), Monica Capra Hodges, granddaughter of Frank Capra, and film critic Leonard Maltin. Former NBC Today show correspondent Bob Dotson provides the narration.

The release of the documentary comes at the right time, as this year marks the 75th anniversary of the release of It’s a Wonderful Life.

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Frankenstein, 1931

On Friday night, I watched the 1931 film Frankenstein, starring Colin Clive and Boris Karloff. And Henry Frankenstein’s creature, called The Monster, played by Karloff, elicited my empathy as he jolted to life in a lightning storm with an abnormal brain incapable of functioning in society. I won’t relay the plot summary since the story is very familiar. And the movie version is much different from the novel it was based upon, Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein; or, the Modern Prometheus.

Frankenstein poster

But one scene stood out. In it, Karloff plays a game with a little girl, both of them tossing flowers into a lake. He then picks up the girl and throws her in, and she disappears below the surface of the water. Why? He doesn’t know any better.

Frankenstein movie still.

And the film made me think of my autistic son and about all disabled people. What do we do with humans who don’t live up to perceived standards of normalcy? Where do they go? Are they given a chance to function, to thrive, to pursue happiness, and to find a place in this world? I have no answers—just a desire to express kindness toward every person.

And the movie inspired a short poem.

Halloween Screening:
Frankenstein, 1931

You can’t fault
Frankenstein’s creature
For what he became.

He never had a choice.
He didn’t ask to be born.
He didn’t seek existence.

With an abnormal brain
And cobbled parts,
He can’t be blamed for
The terror he wrought.

He was only acting
According to his nature.
The real monster here
Is the man who
Created the creature.

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About Endlessness

I recently watched About Endlessness, a 2019 film by Swedish director Roy Andersson. It falls in line with other works by Andersson, including You, the Living (2007) and A Pigeon Sat on a Branch Reflecting on Existence (2014).

The film is a series of vignettes that explore the absurdity, tragedy, and loneliness of life. They are comical and fantastical, mundane and realistic, all at the same time. Andersson probes existential themes, and although About Endlessness is a Swedish film with subtitles, it transcends country and language based its universal portrayal of humanity and the raw emotions expressed.

Andersson’s style consists of static scenes composed of single long takes with all action taking place within the frame—like a painting come to life. Andersson’s work exemplifies film critic André Bazin’s theory of mise-en-scène—with composition, lighting, set design, and production design being more important than editing.

And the wide-angle shots by cinematographer Gergely Pálos reminded me of the deep focus cinematography of Gregg Toland in Citizen Kane.

A subdued female narrator describes banal moments, like a woman with a stroller in a train station who loses one of the heels on her black shoes. “I saw a woman who had problems with her shoe,” the narrator explains.

This type of plotless film is not for everyone; it’s aimed for an art house audience. However, Andersson has a good sense of timing. Just when the viewer’s interest in a scene starts to wane, he cuts to something else. And with a running time of 78 minutes, the film does not drag.

A couple of vignettes really stood out for me.

In a crowded market, with fresh fish in the foreground and produce and cheese in the background, a woman with dark hair and a brown coat converses with a man. She then walks away, moving toward the fish station and eventually toward the center of the frame.

A bald man shouts to her: “I could see the two of you had a lot to talk about.” He then slaps her across the face. The other customers look on but do not intervene. He slaps her two more times and then some men step in and stop him. The bald man is wrestled to the ground, and he says to the woman: “You do know that I love you?” And she responds, “Yes, dear, I know. I know.”

Still from About Endlessness.

This realistic portrayal of spousal violence filled me with unease. Yet I couldn’t look away. Putting myself in the middle of that market, I ask myself, “How would I have reacted? Would I have tried to stop the man from hitting his wife? How many slaps would he have connected on before I came to her defense?”

In the second scene I want to point out, Andersson depicts an urban bar/cafe during the evening hours with light snow falling outside the windows. Silent Night plays in the background, and we are unsure if the music is playing inside the bar or if Andersson is using the track as a music bed.

A dentist from an earlier scene has come in to get a drink, and he looks down at the countertop as he holds a glass. He appears melancholy, and the scene conjures an image of Edward Hopper’s painting Nighthawks.

Still from About Endlessness.

A short male customer turns to the dentist and says, “Isn’t it quite fantastic?” When the dentist does not respond, the man turns to another customer and repeats his line verbatim. This time, a thin customer in a black suit says, “What?” And the man who asked the original question responds: “Everything. Everything. Everything is fantastic.” And the man in the suit says, “Well, yes.” And the little man adds, “I think so, at least.”

I believe Andersson elevates the art form of cinema through his portrayal of humanity, his mix of humor and pathos, and his willingness to let the viewer fill in the details or complete the narratives he has set in motion.

To find out more about Andersson check out his Wikipedia page or his IMDb page.

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Glimpses of Existence: A Short Film

Glimpses of Existence, an experimental/documentary short film in the form of video collage, premieres tonight at an online film screening presented by NewFilmmakers New York.

Using poetry and scenes captured with an iPhone—both before and during the pandemic—the film attempts to find meaning in the mundane moments of our lives, seeking the extraordinary amid the ordinary.

Noir Smoke. Photo by Francis DiClemente.

The central focus of the film is my son, Colin, who has been diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder. Despite his condition, Colin finds joy in everyday activities, and through his eyes we recognize the importance of treasuring the tiny segments of life we are granted—minutes, seconds, hours—while being reminded about the transitory nature of existence.

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Urban Location Inspiration

While out walking, I passed this alley, and it sparked my imagination for an entry into a screenplay scene. This won’t go anywhere, but it’s fun to play along.

Alley in downtown Syracuse. Photo by Francis DiClemente.

EXT. ALLEY – DAY

TOM COLLINS, a man in his forties, exits a building, opens the top of a garbage bin and tosses something inside. He closes the lid and sprints down the alley. Moments later, an explosion rocks the area and pieces of the green plastic bin scatter. ANGLE ON Tom’s face as he reaches the end of the alley. He looks back and three SECURITY GUARDS are in pursuit. One bearded guard cuffs his hands over his mouth.

SECURITY GUARD
You’ll never get away with this Collins. The human extension formula belongs to Dr. Reddick.

ANGLE ON Tom as he continues running.

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The Real Bedford Falls Documentary on WNET

For people living in the NYC/Tri-State area, I want to pass along this note. The indie documentary short I co-produced/directed with my partner Stu Lisson—The Real Bedford Falls: It’s a Wonderful Life—airs tonight at 10:30 p.m. and again on Christmas Day on Thirteen WNET, the PBS station in New York.

Bridge Street Bridge in Seneca Falls. Aerial image by Chase Guttman.

The film explores the connections between the town of Seneca Falls, New York, and Bedford Falls, the fictional home of George Bailey in the classic movie It’s a Wonderful Life. The documentary features interviews with film critic Leonard Maltin, Karolyn Grimes (Zuzu Bailey), Jimmy Hawkins (Tommy Bailey), Syracuse University professor of popular culture Robert Thompson, film historian Jeanine Basinger and Monica Capra Hodges, granddaughter of director Frank Capra. Former NBC Today show correspondent Bob Dotson lends his mellifluous voice as narrator.

Thanks to everyone who was involved in this indie passion project. Special thanks go to The Seneca Falls It’s a Wonderful Life Museum for access to the story and most of all to Joanne Storkan, Chris Carpenter and the team at Honest Engine Films for making the project a reality. We hope to have a streaming/online viewing option in the near future.

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