Student Spotlight: Tamara Perkins’s film LIFE AFTER LIFE screening at the GMFF, plus a teaser of her newest film

LIFE AFTER LIFE, a film directed and produced by current VCFA MFA in Film student Tamara Perkins, will screen at the Green Mountain Film Festival  this March (2018). LIFE AFTER LIFE will screen twice at the GMFF, once in Essex Junction (March 18th, 6:45-9:00pm) at the Essex Cinemas, and a second time in Montpelier (March 18th, 12:00-2:30pm) at the Pavilion. GMFF has partnered with the Community Justice Center of Essex and the Community Justice Center of Montpelier. At both venues, a q&a discussion is planned after the film with the filmmaker along with several other local voices with insights into the topic of re-entry post-incarceration, including: a Reentry Coordinator from the local Community Justice Center (CJC), a Parole Officer from the Department of Corrections, Formerly incarcerated person(s), Circles of Support and Accountability (CoSA) Volunteer from the local CJC, and (at the Montpelier screening) the Deputy Defender General of the State of VT.

LIFE AFTER LIFE  follows the stories of Harrison, Noel, and Chris as they return home from San Quentin State Prison. After spending most of their lives incarcerated, they are forced to reconcile their perception of themselves with a reality they are unprepared for. Each struggles to overcome personal demons and reconstruct their fractured lives. Grappling with day-to-day challenges and striving for success, they work to reconnect with family and provide for themselves for the first time in their adult lives. Told in an unadorned verite style, we experience the truth of their heartaches and triumphs. As their stories unfold over weeks, months and years, the precarious nature of freedom after incarceration in America is revealed.


With 25 screenings, panels, and healing circles that have reached over 4000 people in CaliforniaIndiana, Michigan, PennsylvaniaWashington, Vermont, and Texas (with recent calls to bring the film to Florida, Hawaii, New York and North Carolina), LIFE AFTER LIFE has been generating dialogue and fueling advocacy across the country, even inspiring some colleges/universities to teach to the film.

The Green Mountain Film Festival is presented by Focus on Film, a 34-year-old central Vermont organization whose purpose is to provide public film showings of cultural, social, and historic interest, to sponsor discussions of such films, and to provide an opportunity for independent filmmakers to exhibit their works. The festival enters its 21st year with continued dedication to bringing the best films from around the world to central Vermont.

We are so excited that LIFE AFTER LIFE will be here in Vermont at the GMFF, and look forward to the important and impactful dialogue the film and subsequent talks will bring to our local community.

Additionally. Tamara’s new film, THE WAITING LIST (working title), is getting under way. Check out the teaser below! More footage and info will be coming soon.

More about Tamara:

Tamara Perkins uses film as a vehicle for change, pulling from her work in restorative justice as a grief support facilitator, speaker, and non-profit director to found Apple of Discord Productions in 2006. Tamara’s 2013 TEDx talk, ‘Life After: Embracing our Common Humanity’ explores her experience as a crime survivor. Life After Life received a Media for a Just Society Award from the National Council on Crime and Delinquency, and is selected for the following film festivals: Justice on Trial, FilmFest52, New Haven, and GMFF.


Alumna Emilie Upczak’s (’15) feature film, MOVING PARTS, makes the festival rounds


MOVING PARTS, the narrative feature film, directed by VCFA aluma Emilie Upczak, premiered at Denver Film Festival in November (2017). MOVING PARTS also played at Havana Film Festival in December (2017) and San Francisco Indie Film Festival in February 2018. MOVING PARTS was produced by  John Otterbacher,  with music composed by Rafael Attias, both also VCFA MFA in Film alumni (’15).

Synopsis: After being smuggled into Trinidad and Tobago to be with her brother, Zhenzhen, an illegal Chinese immigrant, discovers the true cost of her arrival.

About the film, Upczak tells Sydney Levine of Medium, “The movie has taken shape in a way I feel very excited about, from the storytelling to the acting to the cinematography and score. I’m also proud to be telling a story about life experiences that are not commonly represented: that of immigrants, the disenfranchised, the desperate, or another way to view them: the strong.” To read more from this interview pop on over to Sydney’s blog.

Faculty member Josephine Decker’s film, MADELINE’S MADELINE, dubbed a “mind-scrambling masterpiece,” premiered at Sundance ’18

MADELINE’S MADELINE, a film written and directed by VCFA MFA in Film faculty member Josephine Decker, made its world premiere at the Sundance Film Festival, January 18th-28th, 2018. MADELINE’S MADELINE was selected in the NEXT category, which Sundance distinguishes as, “Pure, bold works distinguished by an innovative, forward-thinking approach to storytelling… Digital technology paired with unfettered creativity promises that the films in this section will shape a “greater” next wave in American cinema.”

Synopsis: Madeline got the part! She’s going to play the lead in a theater piece! Except the lead wears sweatpants like Madeline’s. And has a cat like Madeline’s. And is holding a steaming hot iron next to her mother’s face – like Madeline is.

IndieWire, has called MADELINE’S MADELINE a “mind-scrambling masterpiece… one of the freshest and most exciting films of the 21st century.”

Check out this great clip of Decker and her cast discussing the film at Sundance:

It’s always exciting when a filmmaker who has generated acclaim on the festival circuit finally lands at Sundance, whether it’s Sean Baker with “Tangerine” or Andrew Bujalski with “Computer Chess.” This year, one of the notable directors making her Sundance debut is Josephine Decker, the experimental filmmaker whose intense psycho-sexual thriller 2013 “Butter on the Latch” was a sleeper hit on the circuit. Now she’s in NEXT with a somewhat more traditional movie, “Madeline’s Madeline,” a reportedly hypnotic drama about a young woman keen on landing the lead role in a rather unorthodox theater piece. The cast includes Miranda July and Molly Parker, but the titular star is New Jersey native Helena Howard, who may be a genuine Sundance discovery. “It’s a concentrated storyline and she really pulls it off,” Groth said of Decker’s direction. “It looks different from her other films but her authorial voice comes through as well.”
-Eric Kohn, IndieWire



Decker has received previous acclaim for her films, BUTTER ON THE LATCH and THOU WAST MILD AND LOVELY. Congrats Josephine! We can’t wait to see MADELINE’S MADELINE!

Writing is Writing: An Interview with Annie Howell and Lisa Robinson

Current VCFA MFA in Film faculty member, Annie Howell, along with her co-writer and co-director Lisa Robinson, discuss their film CLAIRE IN MOTION (now available to stream on Showtime), their co-writing process, character development, and how film can be vehicle for change.

Aja Zoecklein: How did you first meet and when did you begin your collaborative teamwork?

Lisa Robinson: We met at NYU grad school, but didn’t actually make any films together there. After we finished school we had both written our own features and were trying to get them made but financing was taking a while…we had a conversation about an idea and decided we should make a web series together. It was called SPARKS and was eventually syndicated by the Sundance Channel, which was great. We had fun with it. We would each write an episode and kind of piggyback off each other. From there, it kind of naturally evolved into making a feature, SMALL, BEAUTIFUL MOVING PARTS, which was partly based off the series.

Annie Howell: When we made CLAIRE IN MOTION, I was living in Athens, Ohio and teaching film full time at Ohio University. As soon as I landed I was like “oh, this could be a really interesting place to make a film.” Lisa visited, and I would send her pictures, and that was one of the jumping off points, just thinking about this interesting town that is not as often seen on screen.

 AZ: What is your writing process like? How do you structure your writing as collaborators—together in a room, separate, both?

AH: We typically write independently, swapping and sharing ideas. For the two features, for example, we would have this really long running text/blast email conversation that never stopped! (laughs) Which is great because it’s what the writer’s brain does anyway, but you are just sending it off to another person. We both like having our assignments, agreeing on what that is, and then coming back together with the results. We had a couple of times when we would sit in front a whiteboard together to figure out whatever challenge was in front of us.

AZ: Do you write differently knowing that you will be directing the work?

LR: I don’t think we write differently because we’re directing. The script has to communicate to not just us, but to our actors and to the rest of the crew. It needs to be just as transparent in terms of what we’re trying to do as it would be otherwise. The prep is actually the really important partwhere the writing is changingbecause you are starting to manifest the stuff, physically: you’re picking locations, costumes, actors… It’s such a crucial part of the translation; it’s at that moment the writing gets pulled into the directing space.

AH: I agree, the writing doesn’t deferwriting is writing. We probably have our producer’s hat on a bit: Is this possible? Can we write for a location that we already have? But, consistently, the writing has to work first.

AZ: The characters in CLAIRE IN MOTION are so well-fleshed out. I never felt like anyone was behaving inauthentically or outside of their spectrum of responses. As writers you get the fun task of people-ing your world, how do you go about writing your supporting characters?

AH: For this film, again, it was really informed by this particular town, and also our shared knowledge of the world of academiaa lot of that world is the personal and the professional mixed togetherand so we brought those instincts, impressions, and experiences to the table. Often it’s so challenging and difficult to understand your protagonist and to keep searching for that thread or theme. Supporting characters can often come much quicker, which helps to build that confidence in the writing. In this case the place that she is in and the people around her are just such an important part of the story…

LR: Since Annie was teaching and living there she had a lot of interesting encounters and specifics to bring to it. Since I was further away, I brought a more abstract mental state to it, more along the lines of, what is Claire going through and what kinds of characters would trigger her or bring out parts of her psyche? Those two things combined helped create some of these character.

 AZ: While part mystery/thriller, CLAIRE IN MOTION really tells the story of a woman who is faced with the reality that, in truth, you never can know somebody entirely, and that, perhaps even more importantly, that lack of recognition extends to yourself as well. What prompted you to explore this subject matter in the way you did? Did you know going in that you wanted Claire’s evolution to start at x and end at y?

LR: We knew we wanted her to go through a tragedy and have to grapple with that uncertainty, and letting the viewer grapple with it as well. We weren’t quite sure how we were going to do it, or even what the tragedy was going to be,  but we were interested to see how that uncertainty shifted her identity. We set out to explore a character in a place in her life where she is comfortableshe’s a little bit older, not in her 20s anymore, has a sense of who she is and what her life is going to beand we wanted to upset that, let that run out, and see how she shifts and changes.

AH: We also had some time in the writing process to really chew on a number of different scenarioswe played quite a bit with it in terms of plot, running a lot of what-ifs. We have a strong shared value that we want our audience to have their own experience, so we weren’t going to wrap everything up neatly. The persistent interest in theme being: the not knowing of life and how that can surprise you; what you learn from it and how you might be damaged by it; and inevitably, how you have to just keep going.

AZ: In light of the current state of the world, how do you see filmmaking as an art form shaping and/or informing us as humans?

LR: There’s a lot of exciting films out there right now. GET OUT is a really amazing example of a film that is surprising and exciting in terms of genre, subtext, and choices…So, I’m still really excited about stuff I’m seeing every year. Film is such a powerful medium because it hits people on multiple levels at once. Unfortunately, that means film is related to propaganda, to Facebook, and to all this discussion about fake news. It is just such a powerful force that spreads out in all these different mediums, but, I still think it’s a great tool for change. We see films like MOONLIGHT or LADY BIRD, these are very particular voices that are getting widespread attention. It’s so great.

AH: A well-crafted visual story provides this opportunity for identification, empathy, complication of stereotypes, and personal introspection that’s unlike or dissimilar from the other other ways in which those things happenwhich is, through actual physical relationships with other human beings. When you have the ability to silently interact with othersby that I mean, the charactersit’s a totally different process of growth. These stories are important for any person who is interested in evolving, and I am glad we can do that in different types of waysthrough literature, through cinema, through just observing and watching.

AZ: Thank you Annie and Lisa!


Annie J. Howell is an award-winning screenwriter and director. Howell’s first film, co-written and co-directed with Lisa Robinson, was SMALL, BEAUTIFULLY MOVING PARTS, followed by the duos second feature, CLAIRE IN MOTION. In 2016, LITTLE BOXES, a film written by Howell and directed by Rob Meyer premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival, where it sold to Netflix. The script for LITTLE BOXES is the recipient of an IFP Emerging Narrative Award for Best Feature and a San Francisco Film Society/Kenneth Rainin Foundation grant. Howell’s other credits include a short for the vanguard ITVS series FUTURESTATES, as well as the web series SPARKS, also created with Robinson and licensed to the Sundance Channel.She teaches in the MFA in Film program at Vermont College of Fine Arts, as well as City College, and has also been a member of the faculty at Duke University’s Center for Documentary Studies, Ohio University’s MFA in Film, and at The New School, where she was the Founding Director of the Graduate Certificate in Documentary Media Studies Program.

Lisa Robinson is an award-winning screenwriter and director. Her credits include the feature films CLAIRE IN MOTION and SMALL, BEAUTIFULLY MOVING PARTS, both written and directed with Annie Howell. Robinson has directed several episodes of television, including the Emmy award-winning A CRIME TO REMEMBER and the series FUTURESTATES, that had its series premiere at the Tribeca Film Festival. Robinson has written and directed several award-winning short films. She also works as a screenwriter and wrote MIND BLAST, an IMAX film for the Blue Man Group. She is the recipient of the Martin E. Segal Prize, the Mitsubishi Digital Media Lab Award for Excellence, and a New York Foundation for the Arts Fellowship. Robinson is currently  Associate Professor of Film at LIU.

Student Spotlight: Lex Lybrand’s thesis film, MAYBE SHOWER

Current MFA in Film student, Lex Lybrand, just dropped the trailer for his thesis film project, MAYBE SHOWER. Written and directed by Lybrand, MAYBE SHOWER stars Kelsey Thomas (SUMMER LEAGUE), Rachel DeRouen (GLASS), and Megan Simon (INDOOR CAT). With Carlos O’Leary (THE TROLLS), Jeff Pearson (HOME REMEDY), Nathan Ehrmann (THE TROLLS), and Caitlin French.

Ash, Shannon, and Wendy are all late. You know… LATE. As their collective anxiety grows, they band together to face their fears, confront the potential fathers, and egg a car or two. All part of the world’s first MAYBE SHOWER.

On October 26th, 2016, Lybrand wrote the following on the “Maybe Shower” blog, and we just had to share it here because, well, it brings us great pride:

I’m sitting in a dorm room in Montpelier, Vermont just a couple of days before Halloween. There’s snow on the ground, I can see my breath in my room, and I’m almost out of coffee. I haven’t been this happy in a very long time. 

This is the last day of my first week at VCFA’s MFA in Film residency. I entered this program with no idea what I would work on while I’m here… but now I know. I’m excited to announce that I have begun work on my next feature screenplay, and I plan to take it from conception to reality during this 2 year program… This is gonna be fun.

MAYBE SHOWER will screen this April at our spring residency and will be hitting the festival circuit soon. Visit the MAYBE SHOWER site to learn more. We can’t wait to see this one! Congrats Lex!

Check out the trailer below. (See if you can spot another one of our talented students in the film, Mr. Kris Atkinson. We love to see our people crewing for each other!)

(Lybrand photo courtesy of George Nicholas)

Student Spotlight: Mark Schimmel’s KILL THE LIGHT

Current MFA in Film student, Mark Schimmel, just dropped the trailer for his new 22 min. narrative short film,  KILL THE LIGHT. Check it out below!

Cheryl, a mysterious woman left for dead on the side of the road is found by Ray, a county sweep who picks up road kill. Together they unravel the mystery of Cheryl’s haunted past.  

Directed by Schimmel (The Originals, Operation Snowplow, Geppetto’s Secret), KILL THE LIGHT features Coburn Goss (Man of Steel, Superman vs. Batman).

Other credits for KILL THE LIGHT include:
Written by Lee H. Ross (Downloading Nancy, Benjamin Troubles)
Cinematography by William R. Nielsen (Chicago Fire, Sirens, Sex & Drugs & Rock & Roll)
Music by Angelo Panetta (Creedmoria, Mad Town)

To learn more about Mark and his work visit his website.  Also, check out the great article with Mark on MovieMaker about shooting a short and the filming process for KILL THE LIGHT.


We look forward to seeing where KILL THE LIGHT screens, and of course, what’s next for Mark!

Process. Patience. Passion: Alan Berliner, October 2017 Residency Recap, Special Guest

The VCFA MFA in Film residency week is always an inspiring time for our students, and this past October was no exception. We were lucky enough to have the brilliant and affable Alan Berliner join us as a special guest. As is the usual format with our special guests, Alan gave a lecture in addition to a screening of his film with a q&a period following.

In his lecture, Alan shared wisdom about his filmmaking process, editing and what it means to be, as he says, “a collagist.” We viewed and discussed clips of his past work (WIDE AWAKE, EVERYWHERE AT ONCE), and got a special sneak peek of his newest (top secret, 40-years in the making!) project. Berliner provided candid and compelling insights into how he approaches his art and the creative process. Just a few pearls: trust the process, play, detour, and consider the “spectrum of revisions” by looking at things at the molecular level, in which he states, “I make molecules. Put them together. I’m making compounds…Everything has meaning.”

Below is an excerpt (teaser!) of his lecture for a small taste of what we were so fortunate to experience from his visit:

For those familiar with Alan’s work, specifically elements showcased in his film, WIDE AWAKE, you know about his copious collection of “subject matter” and the meticulous ways he catalogs all of these pieces he has gleaned from the world in his studio space in Manhattan. To get an idea the New York Times gives a brief description:

…Stacked on metal shelves that line two walls of the studio are hundreds of color-coded film cans and boxes. Red denotes black-and-white 16-millimeter footage; orange, sound; yellow, 16-millimeter color; blue, his family’s home movies; green, others’ home movies; violet, found photographs from around the world; gray, slides and transparencies. “It’s spectral, you see,” Mr. Berliner said.

Elsewhere along the shelves are subsections of emotional ephemera: discarded photo albums, love letters, suicide notes and journals, some found in flea markets, others in the trash. Cabinets are filled with wooden objects, pieces of carpet, flipbooks, toys, kaleidoscopes, zoetrope strips. Things for cutting. Things for pasting. Things for labeling. Things for measuring. A file cabinet is marked with the names of birds. Open a drawer, and the corresponding call rings out.

… Would he describe himself as obsessive? Pause. “Of course,” he said. “I’m not afraid of that word.”

It was fascinating to hear Alan discuss his “Living Laboratory” in detail while viewing his work, both in finished form and in rough cuts. Berliner is, above all things, an artist married to his “process, patience, and passion.”

For the screening Alan brought his film, FIRST COUSIN ONCE REMOVED. Trailer is below:

In a 2013 article in IndieWire, Berliner writes about viewing his films with audiences,

For me, watching my films along with the audience has always been a necessity — an intrinsic part of my understanding of what it means to be a filmmaker.  For as long as I can remember, I’ve always seized the opportunity to be a fly on the wall inside the real-life laboratory for which my film was intended: a group of perfect strangers intimately gathered in a dark room to watch something I’ve just spent years of my life putting together.

…I’ve always believed that finishing a film is just “the beginning” of the end of my filmmaking process.  I say “the beginning of the end,” because this new (and exciting) phase in the life of the film initiates a critically important part of my creative process — the chance to observe audience response as a way of gleaning insights both about my film and about filmmaking; things I’ll take with me when it’s time to make the next one.

About his film, FIRST COUSIN ONCE REMOVED, Berliner tells Documentary Magazine,

“The other thing about the film,” Berliner explains, “is that you start out doing one thing, and then because it’s just part of life and it’s just the way the mind works, you end up going to some other place and doing something else, or realizing something else, or getting insights that take you to other places. I made a film about the memory loss of a man who had a lot that he both needed and wanted to forget. At the end I say, ‘You are in a film, and millions of people are watching and you can say anything you want.’ And what does he say? ‘Remember how to forget.’ And in context, what he’s saying is what is true in life: If we couldn’t forget, we would all go insane. So forgetting is a very, very powerful force in both sanity, and in keeping the world in perspective.

Visit Alan at his website to learn more!

The New York Times has described Berliner’s work as “powerful, compelling and bittersweet… full of juicy conflict and contradiction, innovative in their cinematic technique, unpredictable in their structures… Alan Berliner illustrates the power of fine art to transform life.”

Alan Berliner’s uncanny ability to combine experimental cinema, artistic purpose, and popular appeal in compelling film essays has made him one of America’s most acclaimed independent filmmakers. Berliner’s films, FIRST COUSIN ONCE REMOVED (2013), WIDE AWAKE (2006), THE SWEETEST SOUND (2001), NOBODY’S BUSINESS (1996), INTIMATE STRANGER (1991), and THE FAMILY ALBUM (1986), have been broadcast all over the world, and received awards, prizes, and retrospectives at many major international film festivals.  Over the years, his films have become part of the core curriculum for documentary filmmaking and film history classes at universities worldwide. All of his films are in the permanent collection of the Museum of Modern Art.

 In 2006, the International Documentary Association honored Berliner with an International Trailblazer Award “for creativity, innovation, originality, and breakthrough in the field of documentary cinema.” Berliner is a recipient of Rockefeller, Guggenheim, and Jerome Foundation Fellowships and multiple grants from the NEA, NYSCA, and NYFA.  He’s won three Emmy Awards and received seven Emmy nominations.

Or, as Alan might prefer:

Alan Berliner spends every day alone in a room with his stuff, trying to tell stories.