Tag Archives: Julian Grant

The Third Annual Oakton Pop-Up Film Festival

I am excited to announce that, after the success of the last two Oakton Pop-Up Film Festivals in 2014 and 2015, I have programmed and will be hosting P.U.F.F. again. The screenings of this year’s four acclaimed independent American films, spanning various genres and styles, will all take place at Oakton Community College’s Footlik Theater (room 1344) in Des Plaines, Illinois, from Tuesday, November 1 through Friday, November 4. The first three screenings will be followed by Q&A sessions with the filmmakers, moderated by various Oakton Humanities professors, including yours truly. The screenings are all FREE and open to the public. Any of my students who attend a screening will receive extra credit points towards his or her final grade (see the extra credit page of your course website for more information). Don’t you dare miss it!

The full schedule:

Thao’s Library (Elizabeth Van Meter, 2015, 88 minutes)
Tuesday, November 1 at 2:00pm


Winner of the Audience hoice Award at Geena Davis’ inaugural Bentonville Film Festival, this extraordinary movie depicts the unlikely friendship between two women: NYC-based actress Elizabeth Van Meter, grieving in the wake of the suicide of her younger sister (famed child aviator Vicki Van Meter), and Thanh Thao Huynh, a Vietnamese woman whose body has been ravaged by exposure to Agent Orange. One day, Van Meter saw a photograph of Thao by chance and learned that this young woman had created a makeshift library for the children in her small village. Van Meter reached out to Thao, and the two set out to build a permanent library, the journey of which is documented in this poignant, poetic and ultimately cathartic debut feature. Co-sponsored by the Women’s and Gender Studies program.
Followed by a live Q&A with director Elizabeth Van Meter conducted by Kathleen Carot.

Bloomin Mud Shuffle (Frank V. Ross, 2015, 75 minutes)
Wednesday, November 2 at 12:30pm

James Ransone (The Wire) and Natasha Lyonne (Orange is the New Black) star in this bittersweet “anti-romantic comedy” about aimless 30-somethings living in the suburbs of Chicago. Lonnie’s life hasn’t changed much in the 16 years since he graduated high school. Still painting houses, still drinking too much, still hanging out with the same old friends. As far as he can see, his only hope for the future lies in taking his physical relationship with coworker Monica to the next level. Written and directed by “mumblecore” veteran Ross (Audrey the Trainwreck). “Ross is so in tune with his characters that they never seem written or contrived… Ross’ directorial adroitness suggests a mature auteurism that is extremely rare in American lo-fi, micro-budget cinema.” – Don Simpson, Smells Like Screen Spirit
Followed by a live Q&A with director Frank V. Ross conducted by Michael Smith.

A F**kload of Scotch Tape (Julian Grant, 2012, 94 minutes)
Thursday, November 3 at 2:00pm

A musical neo-noir drama where a patsy is set up to take the fall for a kidnapping that leads to murder. When the money he is paid is stolen, he embarks on a rampage of revenge. Things go from bad to perverse as Benji (Graham Jenkins) must fight his way through father figures, hookers with no hearts, marauding men and the hopelessly lost. All singing, all-fighting – FLOST is a throwback to the crime films of yesteryear mixed with the music of Kevin Quain. Based on the writings of pulp-fiction writer Jed Ayres, FLOST mashes up film noir, musical drama and hard-hitting social injustice. Not for the faint of heart or humor. “Truly one-of-a-kind, a film that is destined to generate a substantial amount of buzz with indie film fanatics looking for something original, something outside of the proverbial box.” – Todd Rigney, Beyond Hollywood
Followed by a live Q&A with director Julian Grant conducted by Therese Grisham.

Buzzard (Joel Potrykus, 2014, 97 minutes)
Friday, November 4 at 12:30pm


This pitch-black comedy from regional Michigan filmmaker Joel Potrykus (The Alchemist Cookbook) has been accurately described as “Office Space on Crack” (Indiewire). Paranoia forces small-time scam artist Marty Jackitansky (Joshua Burge) to flee his hometown and hide out in a dangerous Detroit. With nothing but a pocket full of bogus checks, his Power Glove, and a bad temper, the horror metal slacker lashes out. “Potrykus has fashioned a vigorous and strangely compelling character study, a sustained burst of punk-rock ferocity, and one of the most original American films to emerge in some time.”- Calum Marsh, Village Voice

This film festival is sponsored by the Oakton Community College Educational Foundation and its generous donors.


A Razor Blade in a Dildo: An Interview with Julian Grant

Julian Grant is the Chicago-based writer/director of F*ckload of Scotch Tape, an impressive, no-budget neo-noir/musical that will receive its world premiere at the Chicago International Film Festival next week. As I noted in my capsule review from last Monday, the film that has already come to be known affectionately as FLOST is made with a fuckload of filmmaking heart. I recently interviewed Julian about this gonzo movie, a guaranteed cult item in the making.

Julian Grant directing Graham Jenkins in F*ckload of Scotch Tape

MGS: As I understand it, you began making cable TV movies as a director-for-hire in the 90s, then became a director of microbudget indies after you started teaching film production at Columbia College a few years ago. What lessons did you learn from your cable experience that you’ve been able to apply to your work as an indie director? Also, can you clarify for me what you see as the relationship between your roles as teacher and indpendent filmmaker?

JG: I’ve made a lot of movies over the years and always had to deliver maximum bang for the buck. From kickboxing dramas for Lionsgate to high-action mini-series for Syfy or romantic weepies for Lifetime, I was tied to the world of ‘movies’ – cinematic product that was market driven and defined by advertising, cast and proven formula. It’s not a bad world – but it’s a limiting one for an artist sometimes. As I became a full time professor, I was able to return to my love of ‘film’ and as such make anything that I could afford. It meant that I had to eschew the cheese trays and multi-camera world of moviemaking and dial into the more personal world of DIY LO-FI filmmaking. Worlds became character driven and I moved away from readily identifiable genre and market driven formula. of course, the irony is – the more you ignore the pretty girl, the more she wants you.

MGS: FLOST is a great neo-noir. A lot of big budget Hollywood movies try for a “noir feel” by using voice-over narration and nighttime exteriors but they miss capturing the true spirit of those original films from the 40s and 50s. FLOST reminds me of great b-movies like Detour in the way that it captures a sordid atmosphere of sleaziness and rank desperation. How much of that mood comes from the Jed Ayres’ stories on which the film is based and how much of it comes from your love of classic movies of this genre?

JG: Jed’s a great writer and the tone of his work inspired me to rework it into a cinematic world very reminiscent of Ed Ulmer and the poverty row pictures of yesterday. Dennis Potter (Pennies From Heaven, The Singing Detective) from the UK was an even greater influence and FLOST is very much a love letter to the palooka who can’t get a break and has to fight and sing his way out of trouble. Imagine a 30s version of Fight Club mashed up with Glee, and you’ve got a sample of what I was trying to do.

MGS: A couple of other films I thought of while watching FLOST were John Boorman’s Point Blank and Park Chan-wook’s Oldboy. As in the former, there is a plot involving a protagonist beating the hell out of one person after another in pursuit of a bag of money, and complex editing schemes including a montage that flashes back to all of the moments of violence throughout the film. As in the latter, there is the revenge theme as well as the use of a hammer as an important prop in one of the fight scenes. Were either of these movies a conscious influence on you?

JG: Point Blank is definitely a reference and the gritty ethos of all Asian action cinema runs through this as well. Park’s Oldboy is a friggin’ masterwork and his ‘hammer moment’ is just lovely – in a horrible way. Editing and violence go together like chocolate and peanut butter and my editor, Jason Robert Becker and I had long talks about what we wanted to do and just mix-mastered the hell out of everything to represent state of mind, time frame and emotional resonance. Who says editing is just to show who does what and where?

MGS: My favorite aspect of FLOST was your decision to turn it into a musical. There is something incongruous, funny and yet strangely poignant about baby-faced Benji lip-synching the songs of gravel-voiced Kevin Quain. What made you feel that this risky aesthetic choice would be right for this gritty story material?

JG: Musicals have always been a way for the poor and downtrodden to make light of the steaming pile that is their lives. The great work of Busby Berkeley during the 1930s, the British war musicals, the rock operas based on the music of The Who (Tommy and Quadrophenia) – all were seminal works for me as a child growing into this mania for cinema – and so with my dear friend Kevin Quain being gracious enough to let me raid his canon, it was a lovely way to show the fear, contempt, anger and love that is usually expressed through exposition. Fuck reality. This is cinema. We want a world that transports us away. To keep singing like a champ when we are hellbent and gutter bound.

MGS: I have a feeling that this film will go over well with the gay community. Benji is a character of ambiguous sexuality with self-confessed “daddy issues” and your camera seems to show more appreciation for the male body than the female body in the way that you shoot your actors. How did you and Graham Jenkins, who gives a fearless performance as Benji, approach the complex sexuality of this character?

JG: Benji is a twink. A flesh hammer of sorts for the gay crowd. He is eroticized as is every aspect of this film. I want to feel the fuck in this film – and you do. It’s sweaty and wet and smelly and heart-breaking at the same time. It’s the smell of bleach wiping down the sex club walls. Nostalgic and astringent at the same time. A razor blade in a dildo. The sort of work that demands you to participate and feel a little bit queasy afterwards. GJ is the next James Dean – and every gay man wants to fuck James Dean.

MGS: The stylized visuals are a real treat throughout the film even though you obviously had a limited budget and resources. One of my favorite scenes involves Benji putting on make-up before going to a club while what looks like found footage of old movies and TV shows is playing behind him. Where did that footage come from and how did you construct that scene?

JG: I’m a cinephile. Cut me and I bleed cinema. I draw from my extensive library of vintage materials (over 3000 hours) and sources dear to me. I use the old to inform the new and like to reference materials and show the audiences my homage honestly. Fuck thievery like some filmmakers who blatantly copy old pictures and call it their own. I stand up and show you the reel thing.

MGS: Following the world premiere at CIFF, what distribution plans do you have for FLOST? What is next up for you as a filmmaker?

JG: FLOST does the festival circuit for 18 months and plays wherever anyone has a sense of humor and an airline ticket for me and a place to stay. I’ll sell it directly, take a big check if offered or give it away on the web as a 16 part web series. The old model of distribution is dead – but that doesn’t mean I won’t roll over if someone is silly enough to offer me real money up front. Not stupid money – just enough to pay back costs and give cast and crew something for Xmas.

I’m shooting Sweet Leaf in Oct – Dec in the Chicagoland area and then moving onto another feature I’ve just been offered to direct for Summer 2013. I’ve got an animation series currently in negotiation in LA and lots and lots and lots of other ideas for anyone looking to get onboard the crazy train. Sweet Leaf is another Neo-Noir bad boy (and girl) fist in the face and I hope that fans of FLOST will dig it.

You can view the trailer for FLOST here:

You can purchase tickets for the world premiere of FLOST at CIFF here.

You can learn more about Julian Grant on his official website.

48th Chicago International Film Festival Preview, Part 1

As someone who has been attending the Chicago International Film Festival regularly since 1993, I can honestly say that the forthcoming 48th edition offers a shockingly good array of films, maybe the best I’ve ever seen. Not only will CIFF soon play host to regional premieres by major international auteurs like Leos Carax (Holy Motors), Abbas Kiarostami (Like Someone in Love), Raul Ruiz (The Night in Front), Apichatpong Weerasethakul (Mekong Hotel) and Jan Troell (The Last Sentence), it also snagged an impressive number of buzzed about prize-winners coming out of this year’s biggest European film fests, from Berlin (the Taviani brothers’ Caesar Must Die) to Cannes (Matteo Garrone’s Reality, Carlos Reygadas’ Post Tenebras Lux, Cristian Mungiu’s Beyond the Hills) to Venice (Olivier Assayas’ Something in the Air). And this is to say nothing of the exciting titles on offer that are more off the beaten path, including documentaries (Room 237, The Final Member), experimental animation (Consuming Spirits), cult items (John Dies at the End, The Jeffrey Dahmer Files) and strong local work (F*ckload of Scotch Tape). At the 48th CIFF there is truly something for everyone. Below is the first of several previews I’ll be offering of the festival, which begins on October 11th and runs through the 25th. Any of my students who attend any of the screenings (and staple their ticket stubs to a one to two page screening report) will receive extra credit. Refer to the extra credit page of your course website for more information.

For the complete line-up, as well as ticket info, showtimes and directions to festival venues, visit: www.chicagofilmfestival.com

The Last Sentence (Jan Troell, Sweden/Norway) – U.S. Premiere
Rating: 7.8

Torgny Segerstedt was a “failed theologian” who became one of Sweden’s most respected — and controversial — journalists after he began crusading against Hitler in a left-wing newspaper run by friends in 1933. Segerstedt continued this mission undaunted for over a decade even though both the Prime Minister and the King of Sweden tried to convince him to tone down his rhetoric for fear of a German reprisal. While a powerful reminder that silence is acquiescence, this is not just another WWII-related history lesson but also a powerful character study that focuses on Segerstedt’s intimate relationships with three women (his mother, his wife and his mistress), all of whom appear as literal ghosts at one point or another in the movie. Beautifully shot in crisp black and white digital, the latest from 81-year old Swedish master Jan Troell (The Emigrants, Everlasting Moments) has some of the stateliness, grace and intense interiority of late period Carl Dreyer. Troell is scheduled to attend the screenings on 10/19 and 10/20.

F*ckload of Scotch Tape (Julian Grant, USA) – World Premiere
Rating: 7.0

In this impressive Chicago-shot crime tale, Benji, a petty criminal who resembles Macaulay Culkin on steroids, earns $50,000 for his part in a kidnapping plot only to find that he’s been double-crossed by the man who put him up to it. Writer/director Julian Grant shows an appreciation for the sordid atmosphere of rank desperation that characterized the best PRC programmers of the 1940s but updates it for the 21st century by adding a healthy dose of homoeroticism as well as an unexpected string of musical numbers; the film develops a darkly funny, singularly nutty quality as the fresh-faced Benji incongruously lip-synchs the songs of gravel-voiced Tom Waits sound-alike Kevin Quain while embarking upon his bloody rampage of revenge. With minimal production values and money but a few well-chosen visual motifs (a lollipop, a mask, the eponymous adhesive) and a fuckload of filmmaking heart, Grant has deftly crafted 84 minutes of brutal, sleazy neo-noir fun. Grant is scheduled to attend all three screenings of the film.

Consuming Spirits (Chris Sullivan, USA) – Chicago Premiere
Rating: 7.2

This experimental animated epic concerns the intertwined destinies of characters named after colors (Blue, Gray, Violet) in a small Midwestern town over a period of several decades but only gradually does something like a narrative emerge from the carefully honed rural/Gothic atmosphere. Imagine Tim Burton at his early imaginative best making a film adaptation of A Prairie Home Companion and you will have an inkling of what writer/director Chris Sullivan (perhaps best known to local cinephiles for playing the creepy guru in Melika Bass’ Shoals) is up to. The consistently inventive visuals (the images are comprised of cutout, stop-motion and traditional hand-drawn animation) are a delight from beginning to end even if I must confess that at 136 minutes this occasionally tested my patience. But given that Sullivan shot Consuming Spirits in 16mm and HD over a 15 year time span, he brings a whole new and awe-inspiring meaning to the word “painstaking.” I certainly enjoyed the end result more than most of the animated films I’ve seen from Hollywood in recent years. Sullivan will attend the screening on 10/16.

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