Santa Cruz Film Festival

cover-webFamke Janssen opens up about her premiere in the Santa Cruz Film Festival. How she morphed into writer-producer-director of the new, inventive comedy-drama, ‘Bringing Up Bobby’

Local filmmakers deliver a provocative look at street youth and the transformational power of music in ‘Don’t Cost Nothin To Dream’   

Famke  Fatale
Famke Janssen opens up about her premiere in the Santa Cruz Film Festival. How she morphed into writer-producer-director of the new, inventive comedy-drama, ‘Bringing Up Bobby’

Sass and sexiness always seem to make for a wining combination, but toss in some smarts and, well, then you have somebody like Famke Janssen. Although, when you take a step back and have a really good look, there are few women in film and TV like Janssen. She’s a rare tour de force; somebody who can both lure you in with her striking beauty as much as she can with her intelligence. Born in Amsterdam, Janssen came to America in the ’80s, modeled for Chanel, and then cover famke1went on to tackle writing and literature at Columbia University. That might be considered “cool” for those hoping more models could dive into deeper waters, but what made—and still makes—Janssen stand out are the roles and projects she’s taken on in the years that followed, the majority of which almost always found her inhabiting creatures and creations of a different artistic color.  She turned in heads as a Bond girl in 1995’s GoldenEye. And certainly, it’s hard to forget her stand-out role, beginning in 2000, as Jean Grey in the X-Men films. (Playing a mutant certainly elevates one’s mystique.) But take her wildly fascinating, gender-bending turn as the manipulative Ava Moore on the hit FX series Nip/Tuck, in which she had the recurring role of a transgender woman, prone to severe mood swings and powerful acts of seduction. (The role boosted ratings long before Ava was even “outed” on the show.) And, early next year, she hits the big screen again in the highly anticipated release of Hansel and Gretel,  playing the significant role of Muriel, opposite Jeremy Renner and Gemma Arteron. But the big news, at least for now, is Janssen’s powerful triple threat as writer-producer-director of Bringing Up Bobby, which plays in the Santa Cruz Film Festival (see related story page 22). The film screens May 17 and 18 at The Nickelodeon and Del Mar theatres, respectively. And, holding true to what seems to be one of Janssen’s own personal missions—exploring things on the fringe—she weaves together a compelling tale that revolves around the escapades of Olive, a European con artist played to winning ends by Milla Jovovich (Resident Evil, The Fifth Element). Olive is certainly carefree—one line in the film finds a spiritual elder saying, “The road to ruin starts at a very early age …” to which Olive replies “Amen”—but she always has the interest of her 10-year-old son, Bobby (Spencer List), at heart as they embrace living in rural Oklahoma. Deep down, all Olive really wants to do is give Bobby the things she was never able to have. Eventually her past catches up with her. Bill Pullman and Marcia Cross co-star. Janssen has done a fine job here of giving the film both heart and quirkiness. GT recently caught up with the filmmaker, who is expected to attend the film’s screening, on the eve of her debut. Here’s the lowdown:

Good Times: You wrote, directed and produced Bringing Up Bobby. That’s a powerful trifecta.
Famke Janssen: It was the only way to do it. Nobody was going to care as much about the project as much as I was. I knew that going into it. For me, it was like having a baby. I would have done anything to keep it moving forward and pushing it up the hill.

So, where did you come up with this idea?
This idea came about because I had visited my boyfriend’s family in Oklahoma. I really thought I had understood America. I had lived in New York for almost 25 years by the time I went to Oklahoma, but I realized that when I arrived that I truly was, and I still am, a foreigner in another country. It was reminiscent to me of movies like Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, Bonnie and Clyde, Harold and Maude and Thelma and Louise. All of those movies. I wanted to play around with the idea of what that’s like to be a foreigner in another country.

cover famkeYou’re from the Netherlands. And in the film, Olive is from Europe, too. She is a foreigner who lives in the U.S. living out her version of the American Dream. And what is that American Dream? It’s different for everybody, obviously, but I think in the case of most foreigners, because it is so extremely influential on how we view a country, that I wanted to make sure that Olive had all the ideals, but they are all based on movies. This is kind of her version of living out the American Dream.

How was it for you coming to the United States? I was naïve when I first came to America. [Working as a model] I stayed in a hotel room and I didn’t know until many years later that I happened to be staying in the fanciest part of New York City. I was staying on the Upper East Side and I was petrified to leave my hotel because I had grown up watching movies of Al Pacino killing people in New York City. So … when I finally got up the courage to leave my hotel room, I thought some people would grab a gun and try to shoot me. It sounds really stupid, and in retrospect it really is, especially on the Upper East Side, but it just goes to show you how powerful the film medium is.
I still feel that way. I still look around today in New York and think, ‘Oh that reminds me of that movie or this movie.’ I am still very much influenced by film. I wanted to do that with Olive.

The film has a good balance of humor and drama. Some people completely get the humor; some people get the drama. It’s a very personal individual experience. I tried to unite two of my favorite time periods in film—the 1930s and the 1970s. Now, most people would have said, don’t do it—these time periods were 40 years apart and should stay 40 years apart. They are not going to meld together.  But because I was so influenced by both time periods I tried to do that. The film has the ’30s kind of screwball comedy and the realism of the ’70s.

Can you talk about some of the challenges it took to create this? Obviously the financial end of it—and the film took four years to bring to fruition. I thought every single time we started getting some money together it meant that we were definitely going, but of course, it didn’t work like that. It’s a tedious project unless you’ve done it before, and most people don’t understand what it is and what it takes to make a film; and the last couple of years things have changed for independent films. You really have to be creative. You have to get your cast together and your money together, practically, simultaneously. But the cast doesn’t want to be involved in a movie without the financing and the financiers don’t want to be involved in a movie they don’t approve of. And so, you’re juggling things constantly. Ultimately, it’s a business. And that’s the really big lesson I learned from all this.
It’s a really nice idea to write a screenplay but your financier ultimately wants to see their money back. Everything is about money—constantly.  It’s all about money while you are trying to make an artistic project. But you know, I have had the help of a lot of people and they have been fantastic.  Many people who have been influential.  It’s a collaborative effort. It’s a celebration for all of us.

What did you love most about writing this?  I enjoy writing so much. I am obsessive compulsive by nature and it’s really fantastic to put that into writing. I find it frustrating in my acting career … even when you’re working on a movie project and have long periods of waiting around. But the writing process, it’s you, by yourself, and creating different characters and scenarios. It’s a difficult and challenging process putting pieces together. Looking back, I would never write that movie again. I feel I’ve grown so much from the experience as a writer, and everything. I think that everything in life … should be a challenge of sorts and a way to grow as a person.

Was that the biggest lesson you learned? No. It was  to never give up. Even when things seemed like they were going to fall apart. Keep going—no matter what.

Bringing Up Bobby screens at 6:40 p.m. Thursday, May 17 at The Nick in Downtown Santa Cruz. Famke Jannsen is expected to attend the post-screening Q&A. The film also screens at 1:45 p.m. Friday, May 18 at the Del Mar Theatre.

For more information, or to catch a glimpse of the trailer, visit santacruzfilmfestival.org.

Dream Come True

Local filmmakers deliver a provocative look at street youth and the transformational power of music in ‘Don’t Cost Nothin To Dream’    

cover dream1For many Santa Cruzans, music is a vibrant, creative outlet. Whether you’re creating it, or experiencing it, music has that rare ability to unite and transform. It’s one of the things that the locally based filmmakers of Don’t Cost Nothin to Dream discovered to a more enhanced degree when they set out to make their documentary, which hits the Santa Cruz Film Festival on May 12. And, by the looks of it, Dream may wind up being a bona fide audience favorite.


For starters, there’s a wonderfully moving thread of humanity that pulls the viewer through Dream, something its creators (and locals) producer/director, Kathy Bisbee, and director of photography/co-producer, Emery Hudson, discovered four years ago when they set out—or, rather, were pulled into—following a story about youth using music as an instrument of hope and change throughout Latin America.

As a result, we’re treated to a moving, 38-minute film about the youths they met in Cuba, Guatemala, and Nicaragua, all of whom found unlikely peace, hope and community support through their music amidst challenging circumstances.

“A lot of the reason you do documentary filmmaking is that you get to be touched as you touch other people,” notes Bisbee, the former director of marketing and development of Community Television of Santa Cruz and current executive director of Community Media Access Partnership (CMAP) in San Benito County. “These kids were making something from nothing.”

From the expressive street youth they discovered in Cuba, Nicaragua and Guatemala—there’s a spotlight on a Bay Area local, too—audiences witness how things like hip-hop and traditional music, along with some self-determination and courage, have become the most effective means of empowerment. The youths spotlighted have either written, sung and/or performed their own lyrics using music as a kind of cathartic measure to make sense of their personal and collective histories. Cultural heritage, and day-to-day struggles against police repression, racism and poverty all come into play, too.

“One of the best ways we can help these artists around the world is to hear their stories, to give them a voice, to give them hope, and let them inspire us to take action in our own communities,” Bisbee notes.
Bisbee and Hudson’s tale began when the duo originally traveled to Guatemala more than four years ago to document a project for Three Americas (threeamericas.org), a Santa Cruz-based nonprofit project that imports sustainably produced coffee from cooperatives in Nicaragua to U.S. consumers while supporting economic development in Latin America. They went all out, as it were, residing on a modest-sized coffee farm in San Martín Jilotepque, Guatemala, for 10 days, all the while recording the process of the cooperative—from its business structure to its harvesting of coffee, as well as their ties to the campesino-to-campesino movement.

cover dream2But the rural documentary work somehow led them to interview young people in Guatemala who spoke candidly about the genocide that occurred throughout the ’80s. It was a brutal time as numerous families and communities were destroyed, and indigenous cultures were broken down and suppressed—more than 250,000 Mayans were killed during what was dubbed La Violencia. All of it, naturally, caused the area’s youth to mourn the loss of their families, as well as their own access to such things most Americans almost always take for granted—free speech, culture and community. Even at the times of these recountings, the youths were—and still are—in danger. The Guatemelan government, the filmmakers point out, want to suppress their stories—their everyday realities—which some of the youth had begun expressing through their music.

But Guatemala was just the beginning. From there, one person knew of other youths doing similar things elsewhere. Suddenly, the duo found more young people to spotlight—in Cuba and Nicaragua. Twenty-five days and more than 20 hours of footage later, they developed a 38-minute doc that is relevant and thought-provoking.

 In the doc, DJ RADIOACTIVE, the film’s narrator, notes: “Musical stories uplift us, give us hope and unite us. This is the telling of four of those stories, a story where dreams are sometimes possible if only for a moment. Sometimes our voices through music are the only power we possess.”

No doubt, in a cosmic design sense, Bisbee and Hudson were meant to do more than the coffee documentary they originally set out to do. In a way, they seemed destined to find these young musicians and singers, and document their tales and their honest stories.

The notion isn’t lost on Bisbee. “All along, the film had a life of its own,” she says. “We followed it. It was the story that was leading us forward. I think that’s what you want to do as a documentary filmmaker—you let it show you the way.”

‘Don’t Cost Nothin To Dream’ has its world premiere at 3:30 p.m. Saturday, May 12 at The Nick, 210 Lincoln St., Santa Cruz. (The film screens with Project Happiness.) DJ RADIOACTIVE, the film’s narrator, will be on hand afterward with the filmmakers for a Q&A. Also on the roster: DJ Leydis, who is featured in the film and known for being the first female Cuban DJ.

There will also be a screening of the film in the Reel Change Film Festival on May 26 at Kresge Hall at UC Santa Cruz.

For more formation, visit bisbeefilms.com.

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