Exiting the theater on the first night of the Alexandria Film Festival, I walked right into a young, unassuming man checking into the festival table. Josh Wolff, a current resident of Chicago, was making his festival circuit debut this season. His film, “Broken”, showed on Friday evening as part of the “Mystical, Amusing, Mysterious and Macabre” Shorts. One of the first things he said to me about his film was that he really wasn’t sure why it was playing with the spookier films of the fest- his film was intended as a comedy film. A fun filmmaker pursuing some big goals, and getting ready for a successful circuit run for his two films out right now, Wolff has a lot on his plate!
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KW: Can you talk about the story of your short film "Broken"?
JW: "Broken" is a comedy about a man named Abel, who comes home unexpectedly to find his girlfriend in the shower with another man. The story departs from the well worn trope when, in the surprise of the moment of discovery, the man slips and falls in the shower, breaking his leg. The three are forced to wait around while the ambulance arrives, and negotiate the anger, shame and awkwardness of the situation together.
The title of the film speaks to both the physically broken leg that the man, Carl, suffers in the shower, and to the state of Abel’s relationship with his girlfriend, Elizabeth.
KW: How long did it take you for production and where did you shoot?
JW: I shot this film over the course of two days. The bulk of the scenes were shot on the first day, and then we used the 2nd day for pick ups and B roll. I live in Chicago, where I’m getting my M.F.A. in Digital Cinema at DePaul University. This was a project I made for a 10-week long class, so time and resources were fairly limited. We shot in and around my late grandmother’s house on the south side of the city.
KW: What is your film background?
JW: I’m currently working on my thesis film for my M.F.A. in Digital Cinema from DePaul University. I have a background as an actor, and received my B.A. in Theater and English. I’ve always had a passion for storytelling, and as I’ve grown older, I want to be able to have more influence in crafting my own stories. Writing and directing my own films seemed like a natural progression.
“Broken” was an adaptation of the beginning to a feature-length script I wrote back in 2010. It’s about a man in his early thirties who is forced to move back home with his parents because of both professional and personal failures. It is a subject I find hits close to home for many people of my generation. It seems for many young people, all the symbols of being an adult, such as owning a house, getting married and having kids, are being delayed longer now as the challenges to succeed economically and personally in the 21st century are very different than what they were for older generations. I created a lot of material from my own experiences trying to figure out a career path, as well as seeing friends of mine in their late 20s and early 30s still lacking a real sense of direction or job security. These days, it isn’t strange to know at least a few people who are forced to move back home while they recover from a set back. It isn’t a unique phenomenon at this point and so I wanted to write a poignant comedy that would attempt to speak to that shift.
KW: That is definitely true, and it makes a good subject matter to explore in film. Why did you choose the Alexandria Film Festival to submit to?
JW: I grew up in Silver Spring, Maryland, so the D.C. area will always be home to me, and I thought it would be a great experience to come back and be a part of a local festival. I’d heard some great things about the festival and I knew it has been growing every year since it started. I think having these types of festivals and other local arts organizations in the city enriches the lives of the residents and brings new opportunities for filmmakers to engage with audiences. I’m excited to be contributing to the DC area arts scene in my own small way and I hope it continues to develop as a destination to go see interesting and diverse independent films.
KW: How do you feel the screening of your film went, and how did you feel about the festival overall?
JW: I was very happy with the reception "Broken" received. It was a well attended event, especially for being a later screening on a Friday night. It’s always a thrill to have a film play in front of a live audience. With a comedy, it’s tremendously useful and interesting to hear where the film gets laughs where you never anticipated. I was also impressed by the other films I was able to see at the festival. I was particularly impressed with the documentaries I saw on opening night. It is an honor to be screening along side such talented filmmakers. I found the audiences were savvy, always engaged and asking insightful questions in the discussions after the films played. Overall I thought it was a great event and offered some fun opportunities for the filmmakers to connect with one another as well.
KW: What other festivals are you screening at or have submitted to, and what is your criteria for submitting to festivals?
JW: I currently have "Broken" and another short film called "Hiccup" playing in festivals. So far, I’ve screened at the Cannes Short Film Corner, Rehoboth Beach Independent Film Festival, Columbus International Film and Video Festival, Louisville’s International Festival of Film, and Route 66 International Film Festival.
This was my first season submitting to festivals and it’s been a great learning experience so far. When I decide which festivals to submit to, I try and take into account a few different factors, like reputation, years in existence, location, and community support. I do as much research as I can, including asking other filmmakers I know if they have ever played in, or have any knowledge about, a particular festival. At the end of the day, I try to submit to festivals that have proven they can bring in an audience, are well organized, screen quality films, and offer some events for the filmmakers to interact with one another.
KW: What other projects are you currently working on?
JW: I’m currently writing a script for my M.F.A. thesis project that I’ll be shooting this spring. It’s a 20 minute dark comedy about a chance encounter between a suicidal psychiatrist and a 17 year old girl who proves to be more emotionally resilient. I’m also developing a script for a small budget independent feature I’m hoping to shoot next year.
KW: That sounds awesome!Where can people see "Broken" and you other work?
JW: Currently "Broken" can’t be seen while it is playing in festivals. But it will be up on my website in a few months after it finishes its festival run: www.vimeo.com/jwolff
KW: What advice do have for other filmmakers?
JW: I’m still just starting out as a professional, so I’m not sure how much advice I can really offer anyone other than to keep growing and developing as an artist by continually making films. Every project you work on, you will undoubtedly get better and more confident in your skills as a filmmaker. Keep pushing yourself to put your work out there for others to see and believe with unflinching passion in your story.
KW: What advice do you have regarding festivals and festival selection?
JW: I think the most important thing to consider when submitting is to self curate. Have an idea of how your film would fit into a particular festival’s program. A useful tool in getting a sense of a festival’s programming is seeing what other films have played in past years. I also usually only submit to festivals that I know I will actually attend. Festivals are great opportunities to network and see other artists’ work. If you aren’t going to attend the festival, it kind of defeats the whole purpose.
Thanks Josh and best of luck on the festival circuit! You can check out more of his projects here: www.vimeo.com/jwolff