BIFF to show local screenwriter's work
GREAT BARRINGTON -- A group of men huddle together in a dark room. An alarm goes off, piercing the silence around them. Grudgingly, the men get up to start their days as migrant workers living in Arizona. The camera focuses on Carlos, a man with a wearied expression etched on his face and spider webs tattooed on the backs of his hands. The men look for work in a Home Depot parking lot, and the camera cuts to Jen and Andrew, a couple looking to hire two men to repair the deck on their house. Two sets of characters from completely opposite backgrounds converge together, yielding unpredictable results.
That is the beginning of "El Doctor," an 11-minute film written and produced by Pittsfield-born screenwriter and actress Jude Roth, which will screen at the Triplex Cinema in Great Barrington this weekend as part of the eighth annual Berkshire International Film Festival.
It's a project that has been a labor of love for Roth, who has written more than 30 screenplays for television, film and internet platforms. "El Doctor" marks Roth's first foray into producing, and she brought the film together under her own production company, Sport of Nature Pictures, created in 2012 to make "El Doctor" a reality, with the help of Off-Chance Productions. An Indiegogo fundraising campaign helped bring the necessary pieces together.
Roth assembled a cast of 13 actors that included herself in the role of Jen. The 20-person production crew included her own husband, Rob, who composed the film's score, and director Heather de Michele, a past collaborator.
"This movie was important from a creative and socio-political standpoint," Roth said in a phone interview. ‘I thought "El Doctor' could contribute to this running conversation we're having about immigration."
The film is a searing look at one family's unraveling, juxtaposed against another man's struggles as an undocumented immigrant living in the United States.
That subject matter resonated strongly with Roth. One day she was in the car listening to a radio story on SB 1070, the 2010 Arizona State Senate bill that has since passed, enabling immigration status checks by police authorities during any "lawful stop, detention or arrest."
Describing her own politics as "decidedly left," Roth said she was affected in a visceral way by stories she kept hearing about individuals impacted by the Arizona legislation. Her curiosity was fueled by watching a friend's documentary about Los Angeles' iconic Sunset Boulevard. The film's look at the street and its inhabitants briefly zeroed in on Hispanic immigrant day laborers. Immediately, Roth was hooked. She wanted to learn more about the laborers' lives.
While informed by her own beliefs, Roth said the film was not her "own personal soap box." Instead, she would look at the moral grey area of each character.
It's a small-scale film that packs a punch, and it stood out to Kelley Vickery, BIFF's founder and executive producer.
"It tells a whole story and creates a conversation in a short span of time," Vickery said. "It sets up that whole conversation that we are having right now through great acting and great direction. It wasn't that hard of a choice to decide to program it."
Another positive of including the film was the opportunity to feature local-born talent, Vickery said.
Roth's parents moved to Pittsfield when she was about three years old, and Roth attended Pittsfield High School, going on to earn her bachelor's degree from New York University's Tisch School of the Arts.
A writing career came after experimenting with other mediums. She studied dance at Terpischore Dance Center and Jacob's Pillow, studied acting at former Berkshire Lyric and Berkshire Public Theaters. She also tried music, which she admittedly "wasn't very good at." At NYU, acting sparked her creativity, and she went on to perform at the Actors Theatre of Louisville in Kentucky. While she loved acting, writing was always bubbling under the surface.
She realized she had a desire to write in the third grade, when she would take classroom notepads home with her.
"I'd prime pen to paper, but would just write the basic Jack and Jill nursery rhyme -- I really got off to a great start," she joked.
Leaving nursery rhymes behind, Roth cultivated her writing during her senior year of college by writing audition monologues for her herself. Eventually, acting full-time turned into writing full-time, and after some fits and starts, her screenwriting career began in earnest.
For Roth, the theme connecting her work has been a desire to find intimate narratives within larger stories.
"I have a love and interest in personal stories that are set against political backdrops," Roth said. "Whether we are aware of it or not, we are affected by the political landscape on a micro level."
If you go ...
What: 'El Doctor,' a film directed by Heather de Michele, written by Jude Roth. Part of the Berkshire International Film Festival
Where: Triplex Cinema, 70 Railroad Street, Great Barrington; Beacon Cinema, 57 North St., Pittsfield
When: Shown with other shorts, Friday, 6 p.m.; Saturday, 9 p.m.; Sunday, 9:15 a.m.
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