Vail Film Festival brings tension to the big screen with ‘Cut to the Chase’ and ‘Finding Her’ | VailDaily.com

Vail Film Festival brings tension to the big screen with ‘Cut to the Chase’ and ‘Finding Her’

Jessica Smith
jsmith@summitdaily.com

VAIL — There's something for everyone at a film festival, from quirky romantic comedies to conceptual science fiction to hard-hitting documentaries. That's why they're so fun. Festivalgoers get to craft their experience, whether that's returning to favorite genres or trying something different.

Among the 67 films at the 13th annual Vail Film Festival are two that will take audiences on a dark journey. These films are "Cut to the Chase," by director-actor Blayne Weaver, and "Finding Her," by director Vlad Feier, starring Johnny Whitworth.

We took a moment before the festival to catch up with Weaver, who is returning to Vail for the fourth time, and Whitworth, a first-time attendee, about the challenges and rewards of independent filmmaking and to get a preview of their films.

'Cut to the Chase' — a dose of fun

“He would allow us to live and breathe the character without being locked down to the page ... I was really attracted to that freedom

— both freedom for him and freedom for me, … his ability to make sure he got what he needed and allowed the actors to breathe life into it.”Johnny WhitworthActor, “Finding Her”

Weaver describes his project as "a Southern film noir thriller." He shot it in his hometown of Shreveport, Louisiana, which afforded him access to a number of talented actors and crewmembers, many of whom were locals or drawn to Louisiana for other film and television productions.

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"Cut to the Chase" is Weaver's fourth film as director — he's written and acted in a number of others, including "Manic" opposite Joseph Gordon-Levitt — and his first foray into the action genre.

"My last three films have all been romantic comedies, and I was looking for something different," Weaver said. "I was looking to do something just to stretch those muscles a little bit."

He succeeded, creating the chance to stretch not only his creative muscles, but his physical ones, as well. In the film, Weaver's character, Max, is "kind of a deadbeat. He's an ex-con, he owes money all over town, and he's been in trouble his whole life," Weaver said. When his sister, played by Erin Cahill, goes missing, it's up to Max to step up for once and find his way around the seedy underbelly of Shreveport to save her. Along the way, he pairs up with a strange woman, played by Lyndie Greenwood (most recently of the television show "Sleepy Hollow").

It seems that action-thriller suits Weaver, who enjoyed working with stunt coordinators and shooting dramatic scenes that went beyond a romantic lead chasing his girlfriend down at the airport.

"It was really a kid's dream to shoot a movie like this, and I'd love to shoot another one," he said.

While creating a small-budget, independent film comes with a number of challenges, one of the things that offsets them is the fact that everyone involved is doing it out of a passion for filmmaking.

"For me, there were so many worries and headaches that come along with that kind of money," said Weaver, of films he's worked on with million-dollar budgets. When making smaller projects like this one, "I felt very artistically fulfilled." That feeling drives Weaver forward to do more things for fun, and to find a story worth telling.

And fun this film certainly was, for both Weaver and his crew.

"There are a lot of movies, and especially (at) film festivals, that are very sobering and dealing with real issues and things that really make you think. This isn't that movie," Weaver said with a laugh. "This should be fun from the moment the lights go down until they come back up. I want people to be sitting on the edge of their seats. I want them to laugh a few times, I want them to gasp a few times and just really have a great time. With this kind of movie, that's what I love; I love to be taken on a whirlwind tour and then, when it's over, almost be breathless and be like 'wow, that was fun.'"

Weaver and several actors will be available for a Q-and-A session after the film showing today.

'Finding Her' — character-driven tension

The tension in "Finding Her" is of a more subdued nature than Weaver's film, favoring suspense over adrenaline-fueled action, drawing out the mystery and following the emotional arc of its characters.

Johnny Whitworth — a long-time actor with a resume that includes "Limitless," "3:10 to Yuma," "Gamer" and the '90s cult-hit "Empire Records," as well as most recently the television show "Blindspot" as the character "Ruggedly Handsome Man" — plays Christian, a journalist tasked with investigating a young girl's disappearance in Brooklyn. After publishing an under-researched, egotistically-motivated article, Christian witnesses the consequences through a set of chain reactions that pushes the movie to its intense conclusion.

Whitworth was at work in New York filming for "Blindspot" when he was put in touch with "Finding Her" director-writer Vlad Feier and several producers.

"I read it, loved it, went in and met with him and just fell in love with it," Whitworth said of the script. "It seemed to go well, and I decided to take that journey."

The entire film was shot in less than a month, on location in New York. Whitworth chuckled when describing the whirlwind experience of dashing around the streets and filming multiple scenes in one day.

"We did a lot of guerrilla-style (filming) where we just kinda walked through," he said. "We put me in character and put me in wardrobe and put a seven-person crew and they just followed me with a camera."

In New York, he added, it's not unusual for random people to just ignore film crews and walk right through a scene. Everyday life goes on in the background while they work, which presents its own challenges.

The main difference Whitworth feels, as an actor, between large-budget films and small, independent films is the presence of time. Larger films can afford to take shot after shot, with production lasting months, while smaller films have to get the shot quickly and move on.

"They both have their attributes, and I really do appreciate making the smaller films. I love not having a lot of time to sit around and get bored in my trailer," he said.

That was definitely not an issue with "Finding Her."

"I don't like sitting around, and this had no sitting around. Honestly, it's a bit of a blur," he said with a laugh.

In particular, Whitworth enjoyed working with Feier and his nonrestrictive directorial style.

"He would allow us to live and breathe the character without being locked down to the page," Whitworth said, remembering one scene that continued past the script for another 10 minutes of improvised acting. "I was really attracted to that freedom — both freedom for him and freedom for me, … his ability to make sure he got what he needed and allowed the actors to breathe life into it."

Whitworth and Feier will attend the festival and will take part in a Q-and-A session after the film shows today. In fact, it will be the first time Whitworth will see the final version, and he said he's excited to watch how the story unfolds onscreen.

"I hope they walk away with a reality check," Whitworth said of the audience takeaway. He chose the script because of its message and its relevancy to current issues in the media of discrimination and racism, among others.

"I hope that Christian is the eyes for the audience to go through this world and this story," he said. "I hope they enjoy the storytelling."

If you go …

What: “Cut to the Chase” film screening, followed by Q-and-A.

When: 4 p.m. Friday, April 8.

What: “Finding Her” film screening, followed by Q-and-A.

When: 9 p.m. Friday, April 8.

Where: Both films are part of the Vail Film Festival and show at Vail Cascade, 1300 Westhaven Drive, Vail.

Cost: Festival passes begin at $59.

More information: Find a full festival schedule and more details at http://www.vailfilmfestival.com.

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