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Wednesday, June 18, 2014

BAMcinemaFest: Q&A with Ignatiy Vishnevetsky (Ellie Lumme)

Described by director-editor-cinematographer Ignatiy Vishnevetsky as a "supernatural genre piece with all the supernatural parts removed," the 40-minute mind-bender Ellie Lumme follows its twentysomething heroine as she struggles to fend off the advances of an overbearing man. Made on a shoestring budget, the film announces Russian-born Chicago resident Vishnevetsky—who, at the age of 24, was the youngest host on Roger Ebert Presents At The Movies—as a bold new voice in independent cinema.

Ellie Lumme. Courtesy the filmmaker
What films have served as inspiration in your work?

Going in, I thought of Ellie Lumme as a ‘30s movie in digital drag. That certainly informed the blocking and the camera movements. Our main lens—the “Frankenstein”—had a cheap adapter screwed on the front to create a softer image with more aberrations and an oilier texture. The movie I thought of the most was a Pre-Code flick called Her Man, directed by Tay Garnett in 1930. It stars Helen Twelvetrees as a Havana bar girl (read: hooker) who wants to escape her knife-throwing pimp and run off with a sailor. Garnett isn’t a big name nowadays (he’s best known for directing the 1946 version of The Postman Always Rings Twice), but he does some really striking stuff with off-screen action and choreographed camera movements in Her Man. Plus, it’s got a great sense of gauzy, scuzzy atmosphere.

What are some of the creative and logistical challenges you faced while working on your film?

We made Ellie Lumme for under $5,000. I’m not really sure how. The first set-up we did on Day 1 was a minute-long shot where, halfway through, the camera had to pull back 12 feet through a doorway that was the exact width of our dolly platform, which was really just a hunk of plywood with skate wheels screwed on. There were two people talking in the frame, but they were standing 10 feet apart and facing in different directions, and we only had the one boom mic. That was how we started our shoot. Frankly, it would be easier for me to name the challenges we didn’t face. For instance, it never rained.

Talk about how your background as a film critic has informed your filmmaking.

It’s kind of the other way around. I made films before I was a critic, and I started writing criticism because the films were pretty bad. I figured that writing about other people’s work would make me a better filmmaker. It didn’t. The skills you need to make films come from life; the critical perspective just helps you process it. Sometimes.

Talk about some of your favorite films of the year.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t take this time to rep James Gray’s The Immigrant, which is my favorite movie of the last two or three years. Gray’s the master of the unspoken; he can get actors to communicate more with a darting glance than most folks can with a big monologue. I also loved Listen Up Philip, which played Sundance and is supposedly getting a theatrical release sometime this year.

Ellie Lumme screens in BAMcinemaFest on Saturday, June 21 at 1:30pm.

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