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Park City Notes — Week 2

by David Leitner
on Jan 31, 2020

Beware of Dog

Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) is the debilitating affliction that ties together three concurrent stories of Gen Z protagonists navigating anxiety issues and anxious times in Moscow, Berlin, and New York in Nadia Bedzhanova’s feature debut, Beware of Dog, premiering at Slamdance. A failing relationship in Moscow, budding lesbian romance in Berlin, and self-pummeling former boxer in New York are the armatures on which the narrative flicks back and forth, from Russian to German to English, as fluidly as switching apps on a smart phone. While OCD and depression take their toll, Beware of Dog is anything but dour. Interactions are as vivid as one character’s pink hair, and the dialogue, at times conveyed by text messaging, snappy and incisive. (The Moscow and Berlin characters are cousins, frequently in touch.) No drama I’ve seen here is as finely tuned to Gen Z’s zeitgeist, an outlook oblivious to national boundaries even if nationalist politicians are not. Bedzhanova, who studied journalism in Moscow and film directing at SVA in New York, is a fledgling director to watch.

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Slamdance Film Festival Continues to Elevate Emerging Talents

For 26 years, debuting filmmakers have traversed the wintry landscape of Park City to screen their films at the Slamdance Film Festival, and this year’s crop of selections promises to showcase significant talent. Taking place January 24-30, this celebration of cinema continues to be, as co-founder and president Peter Baxter calls it, “the premiere film festival by filmmakers and for filmmakers,” with an emphasis on creating a community for emerging independent artists. “We’re an artist-led festival where everyone nurtures each other’s visions, while always looking for new ways to explore and evolve as storytellers.”The 2020 feature competition boasts 16 premieres, with projects originating from Belarus, Canada, Germany, Japan, Mexico, Peru, Poland, Russia, South Africa and the United States. As always, all films are feature length directorial debuts with budgets of less than one million, and which lack U.S. distribution. “We’ve been working behind the scenes year round to ensure that we have another fantastic festival. We’re always looking for strong and distinct storytelling voices,” says festival manager Alina Solodnikova.

Titles were selected by a team of Slamdance alumni via a blind submission process, and then it’s up to Solodnikova to begin the programming process. “We received 2,000 more submissions this year than last year – 8,000 in total – making it an extremely challenging year to decide on what to ultimately program, as the overall quality of the work is getting better and better due to more accessible tools being made available to filmmakers,” she says.

Last year’s sensation was “The Vast of Night,” a small-town science fiction drama which became one of the most discussed films in recent years at Slamdance. Director Andrew Patterson signed with WME, and the movie was purchased by Amazon, who will be releasing it this year. Patterson also struck a development deal with the streaming outlet, and will be participating in a Master Class Panel where he’ll discuss his journey.

“There was tremendous passion over ‘The Vast of Night,’ and every year there’s that breakout film with that flashpoint moment of excitement about a new filmmaker. We can’t wait to see what that is this year,” says Baxter.

“Big Fur,” a quirky documentary with tons of heart and humor from director Dan Wayne, has definite break-out potential given the cult-y subject matter. “I set out to make a movie about taxidermy and it ended up taking unexpected detours into the subculture of Bigfoot,” says Wayne, who comments that before he set out to make his film he’d “never thought twice about Bigfoot before. It’s a fascinating world that I knew nothing about, but now of course I’m immersed in it. I’m excited about screening in Park City because this project always felt like a Slamdance movie.”

“Sammy-Gate,” from director Noel Lawrence, who co-wrote the script with Darius James, is a dark satire of psychedelic history, revolving around the unique relationship between Sammy Davis Jr. and Richard Nixon, and posing the question of whether or not the entertainer had anything to do with Watergate. The film, which will world premiere at the 2020 Rotterdam Film Festival, was a true Slamdance community collaboration, as Baxter served as an executive producer. “‘Sammy-Gate’ is an example of how Slamdance’s ‘by filmmakers for filmmakers’ ethos continues to work year-round. Though film culture tends to focus on the director, filmmaking is a collective effort. It especially matters on a micro-budget project without commercial or institutional support, essentially being forged into existence through sheer willpower and creative labor,” says Baxter.

Lothar Herzog’s “1986” puts a genre spin on topical material, centering on a woman who must repeatedly drive into the “forbidden zone” of Chernobyl in order to make shady deals for her father, with her life seemingly becoming more and more contaminated by a destructive force. “It will be great to show the film outside of Europe, as I’m curious to see the American response the story. My hope is that people who enjoyed the television series ‘Chernobyl’ will be interested to see more of the historical facts about that incident, except set 30 years later,” says Herzog.

“Tapeworm,” from filmmakers Milos Mitrovic and Fabian Velasco, is a witty, multi-character Canadian comedy that uses style to inform its content. “We shot the film on Super 16, which gave it a great texture with lots of grain. We really wanted to make a film that showed how bleak it can be to live in Canada. We’ve been making movies for 10 years, and we put so much of our passion for cinema into this project, so it’s very special,” says Mitrovic

The 2020 shorts lineup will showcase 81 short films in six categories from 26 countries around the world, and will include 18 World, 10 North American and 11 U.S. premieres. Shorts in the Narrative, Documentary and Animation sections are eligible for the 2020 Oscar Qualifying Shorts competition.

“It’s an exciting time for short filmmakers because some of these projects end up getting developed into features or a television series. There are so many outlets out there for content,” says Baxter.

The Russo Fellowship returns for its third year, again giving out a $25,000 grand prize to a deserving filmmaker, and the opportunity to continue their journey with mentorship from festival alumni Anthony and Joe Russo (“Avengers: Endgame,” “Avengers: Infinity War”). The 2019 fellowship was awarded to Hannah Peterson, who has since screened her short, “East of the River,” at the Tribeca Film Festival, and has signed with Paradigm for representation. She’s also been hired by the Duplass brothers to direct the Disney Channel web series, “Shook.”

The festival will also be bringing back its popular Breakouts section. Launched in 2019, Breakouts are films by non-first-time-feature directors who demonstrate a determined vision of filmmaking that is instinctively becoming their own by pushing the expected boundaries of content and form.  There will also be a Special Midnight Screening of “Animation Outlaws,” which centers on the creators of the Spike & Mike Film Festival, and an overall greater emphasis placed on animated content in general.

Notable Slamdance alumni who first gained notice at the festival include Ana Lily Amirpour (“A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night”),  Ari Aster (“Midsommar”),  Sean Baker (“The Florida Project”), Bong Joon-Ho (“Parasite,” “Okja”), Dana Nachman (“Pick of the Litter”), Christopher Nolan (“Dunkirk”),  Jeremy Saulnier (“Green Room”), Lynn Shelton (“Sword of Trust”),  and Marina Zenovich (“Robin Williams: Come Inside My Mind”). “This is a place of discovery, and every year filmmakers emerge from the festival and the industry takes notice. These are fiercely independent filmmakers taking risks and getting their stories told,” says Baxter.

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SLAMDANCE 2020 FILM FESTIVAL REVIEW! Nadia Bedzhdanova’s dreamlike oddity Beware of Dog is bound to infuriate some viewers due to its disjointed narrative structure. Stick with it though, and you’ll be left with a lingering sense of melancholy, its music, and images burrowing themselves into the recesses of your mind. By no means perfect, Bedzhdanova’s film manages to be something more important: it’s original and wildly ambitious, reaching for profundity, if not exactly grasping it. In a cinematic world that seems content with pandering to the lowest common denominator, that by itself makes Beware of Dog worthy of a recommendation.

The film is split into three storylines, each protagonist struggling from a severe affliction. Marina (Marina Vasileva), a young woman who lives in Moscow, struggles with severe OCD. Her bipolar cousin Paula (Paula Knüpling), an anthropology student, lives in Berlin. And then there’s Mike (Buddy Duress), an ex-boxer in New York, doing what he can to fight his alcohol addiction.

“… the film is split into three storylines, each protagonist struggling from a severe affliction.”

The tumultuous sociopolitical backdrop of Marina’s setting could potentially be blamed for her condition. In Marina’s claustrophobic world, everything has to be counted; every other action repeated a certain number of times. Her douchebag boyfriend, Sasha (Pavel Tabakov), doesn’t want to deal with her neurosis, blankly telling her to take care of it. A doctor writes her a Zoloft prescription. “It’s time for you to give birth,” the doctor says. “Not count steps.” She finds respite in nature, in water, and in applying to NYU, for she’s a class valedictorian, who can memorize “300 pages a day”.

In the meantime, Paula meets the pink-haired Joanna (Marina Prados) from Barcelona and immediately falls for her. Joanna feels the instant connection as well and also swoons. However, their lack of communication eventually leads to separation. Paula proceeds to shave her head and cause a ruckus during family lunch. Will she allow herself to deteriorate, or divulge her inhibitions to the one person who seems to truly get her?

Finally, we follow Mike as he mopes around on the damp streets of NYC, basking in self-hatred and resentment. His bank account is in the red. Memories of his ex-girlfriend, who enabled Mike’s addictions while battling her own, haunt him. “Maybe you should concentrate on the people that give a shit about you rather than the ones that wanna see you die,” his friend tells him.

Writer-director Nadia Bedzhdanova adopts an ethereal style, wherein her heroes’ thoughts blend and mesh with things they’re vocalizing, while Julian Stetter’s thumping score fades in and out like a beating pulse. Similarly, the cities blend into each other, with Bedzhdanova connecting their phone-addicted residents via rapid-fire montages. The filmmaker seems to point to how small our world has become, technology rapidly encroaching upon us, uniting but also alienating us all. Despite paying loving tribute to the three cities of her film, she manages to create a dense atmosphere of confinement. Marina’s journey is by far the most emotional and satisfying of the three, culminating in a ray of light amidst all the low-hanging clouds.

“Despite paying loving tribute to the three cities of her film, she manages to create a dense atmosphere of confinement.”

Certain scenes stand out as visually and emotionally striking: Marina having a meltdown by a swimming pool, or climbing onto a roof overlooking the Moscow cityscape; Paula shaving her head on a balcony with a picturesque view of Berlin; Mike fusing with the dankness of New York streets. Bedzhdanova also makes some odd choices that bring the narrative down. A jarring montage involving Marina and an all-female pseudo-orgy comes out of nowhere (a statement on her country’s suffocating restrictions?). The dialogue seems poorly dubbed at times, the characters’ words clearly not matching their lips – if that was intentional, to supplement the whole otherworldly vibe, then it was also misguided. The purposeful lack of connection between the three threads – or between anyone – renders the film somewhat-difficult to engage in fully.

Uneven but earnest, Beware of Dog strives to say something about the universal nature of addiction – be it to technology, alcohol, or our own inhibitions, impulses, and fears – and the importance of basic human connection in an increasingly digitized world. The fact that it even halfway succeeds is a laudable accomplishment.

Beware of Dog screened at the Slamdance 2020 Film Festival.

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But unlike Sam Elliott, he did not kill Hitler.

The first thing that anyone is going to notice about Big Fur is that it has the production values of a show you’d find playing on Canadian public access television about a decade ago. From the reliance on wipe effects to the apparently stock music choices, the film does not exactly telegraph itself as a professionally produced feature documentary, but more like a Sunday morning curiosity that would air alongside a children’s nature program to fill time. However, once one becomes acclimated to the tacky editing choices that stand in stark contrast to the effort placed into sequences of impressive animation, Big Fur reveals itself to be a film with big heart, following the course of one man’s obsession to create the ultimate recreation of Bigfoot.

Ken Walker is a World Champion taxidermist, a Canadian who works out of his home workshop and brings animals back from the dead with remarkable fidelity and exquisite attention to detail. He’s a man dedicated to his craft, sometimes to the alienation of his family and peers, but he’s also entirely egoless about it, hoping to further the art of taxidermy and inspire others to be better than even he is. But if there’s one thing Ken is obsessed with even more than his craft, it’s the existence of the Sasquatch species. Using his experience making lifelike models of pandas and sabretooth tigers from custom molds and other animal hides, Ken sets out to create his most ambitious piece yet: a life-size Bigfoot.

Director Dan Wayne takes a holistic approach to Ken’s quest, flitting between aspects of Ken’s life in a manner that feels less like thematically organized chapters than chronologically convenient diversions. Big Fur will bounce between the history of taxidermy, the mythology and study of the Sasquatch, the construction of the model to be as lifelike as possible, and the impact of Ken’s obsessions on his family, all without regard for organization beyond this being the topic that Ken spoke with the camera about on any given day. However, despite making the film feel a bit messy as a consequence, this choice makes the film feel messy as Ken’s life is, focused on the disparate yet interconnected topics of history, nature, conservation, and proving the existence of Bigfoot to the exclusion of all else.

Big Fur fosters a respect and sense of wonder for the artistry of taxidermy and the value of conservation, but there’s an odd sense of duality when the focus narrows in on Ken’s life again. Sure, it’s amazing that Ken has such impressive knowledge of animal anatomy and the history of Sasquatch sightings, but it feels a little bit strange when he proudly shows off his collection of Bigfoot scat in his freezer, or when you’re reminded that his artistic obsessions aren’t a stable and reliable source of income for his wife and children. Big Fur doesn’t quite enter the realm of full-on character study, but its most fascinating moments are where Ken’s flaws are examined, because they are often a direct consequence of the artistry that makes his work such an interesting subject.

If all you’re looking for is a straightforward story about how a man used his niche interests and expertise to build a lifelike recreation of an as yet undiscovered animal, then Big Fur is certain to scratch that itch in the most basic nuts and bolts sort of way. Unlike Ken Walker’s work, this documentary isn’t so much concerned with details as it is in painting in broad enough strokes that you get a big picture in a scant 75 minutes. But in doing so, what could have been a simple narrative of an artist making art becomes a fleeting glimpse into the macro-level past that informed that art’s creation and the micro-level impact that art has on the man who creates it. And in doing so it leaves enough of a footprint to place your faith in.


Sundance 2020: Loneliness Speaks A New Language In “Danny’s Girl” A Standout Midnight Short film

A short which uses twisted humour and satirical sickness to – when we least expect it – shine a light on a surprisingly tender tale of two alarmingly isolated souls


Director: Emily Wilson
Section: Midnight Shorts Program

The Sundance “Midnight Shorts” section is the stuff of nightmares. And I mean that in the nicest way possible. It’s the kind of late-night section that’s designed to send exhausted all-day attendees home on an imaginary fire-breathing horse that turns the Utah winter into a blood-soaked ice cube for its daily barley-drinking session. In short, it is both a cold blast to the face and a hot jumpstart to the guts. It’s necessary. The titles selected are so left-of-field and consciously morbid that it appals – and simultaneously tickles – the adventurous viewer into sadistic submission.

For example, the Jury winner in 2016 was a three-minute NSFW short called The Procedure. It depicted a random man who, after being drugged in broad daylight, wakes up captive in one of those shady surgical rooms that screams gore and limb-snapping perversions. His eyes are clamped wide open, his hands and legs strapped into the metal bed. Out of nowhere, the expertly edited sequence reveals an unidentified human body being lowered from the ceiling slowly and tantalisingly in such a way that its bare bottom – explicitly featuring the valley where the sun don’t shine – hangs within inches of his screaming face. You expect the very worst. The camera moves closer. You observe the…orifice. It throbs with horrible promise. A tiny fart ensues, the body is pulled back up, the startled man is unshackled, he climbs out a window and walks away. The end. That Sundance actually rewarded this wickedly vile manifestation of a cinematic anti-climax only adds to the midnight legend. It feels like a joke so distasteful that you can’t help but applaud.

The actors are simultaneously pathetic and poignant. In another film, dismemberment and abuse might have been par for the course. Everything we’ve ever known about psychological thrillers begs them to achieve this tragedy. But instead, they find acceptance and coherence in the most depraved circumstances. They find light in the last shade of darkness.

In that sense, Emily Wilson’s Danny’s Girl – a 13-minute short having its World Premiere in this year’s section – is a tame beast. At least audacity-wise: Two online lovers, 35-year-old Danny (Danny Dikel) and an attractive Cleo (Remy Bennett), meet for the first time. Danny discovers something shocking in her luggage, an image that made me struggle to keep my dinner down. Danny, however, can’t keep his lunch down. Back home, Cleo finds out that Danny knows, their encounter makes plane crashes look safer than online dating – and the movie goes from strange to warped. But there’s something about Danny’s Girl that separates it from the usual midnight crowd. The protagonists are social misfits: he is an awkward virgin, she is an unhinged romantic. They are sad, sad adults for whom even the ultimate “worst-case scenario” isn’t enough to suppress a deep-rooted and toxic loneliness.

The short in fact uses twisted humour and satirical sickness to – when we least expect it – shine a light on a surprisingly tender tale of two alarmingly isolated souls. Danny and Cleo are so disconnected from reality that only a sense of shared delusion connects them. They are so abandoned that any situation – anything that requires intimacy of any degree – will do. The actors are simultaneously pathetic and poignant. In another film, dismemberment and abuse might have been par for the course. Everything we’ve ever known about psychological thrillers begs them to achieve this tragedy. But instead, they find acceptance and coherence in the most depraved circumstances. They find light in the last shade of darkness.

The ‘midnight short’ treatment works well as a garb to protect a tale of dysfunctional love and belated togetherness. The (whimsically pictured) climax of two bodies offers up the perfect anti-climax to a narrative that once threatened to explode into sinister pieces. This mockery of expectations makes Danny’s Girl a weirdly humane companion piece to The Procedure. Only, its whimper of an ending is literally life-affirming.

Enter the Killer Shorts Horror Short Screenplay Competition today

In the past few years horror shorts have become a goldmine for Hollywood. Feature films such as The BabadookLights OutMama, and Saw originated as proof-of-concept shorts. Shorts like WhisperThe Burden Behind Sweet Tooth, and Milk were discovered by producers like James Wan and Sam Raimi and are now in development as features.

It all starts with the script.

The Killer Shorts Horror Short Screenplay Competition was created to discover inspire and promote emerging screenwriters around the world as they dig up the freshest new voices in horror. 

Killer Shorts is passionate about horror and all its subgenres. Horrifying monsters, psychological terrors, hilarious horror comedies, creepy creatures: whatever your dark & twisted mind can imagine! If you love and make horror, you should definitely enter their contest this Gothtober.

Call to entry info and fees

Early Bird
October 15th, 2019

November 15th, 2019

December 15th, 2019

Follow this ghoultastic screenwriters prize on FacebookTwitter, and Instagram.


HYPE MAGAZINE - 'Killer Shorts' press release coverage

POP HORROR - 'Killer Shorts' press release coverage

INTERNATIONAL SCREENWRITERS ASSOCIATION - Listed the 'Killer Shorts' screenplay competition


A transgender teen bonds with four other adolescent outsiders in Justin Ward’s “Relish,” which utilizes a classic Hollywood plot device ― the road trip ― to deliver a powerful message about inclusion. HuffPost got an exclusive sneak peek at the drama, which premieres Friday at the Burbank International Film Festival in California, via the clip above.

In it, the character of Kai (played by Tyler DiChiara), who identifies as trans, is racked with emotion while viewing himself in a mirror with his chest bound.

The film follows Kai as he escapes from treatment facility with four additional patients: social media influencer Aspen (Hana Hayes), drug-addicted athlete Levi (Mateus Ward), bipolar Theo (Rio Mangini) and alien-obsessed Sawyer (Chelsea Zhang). Together, the members of this motley crew head to the fictional Dreamland Music Festival and, along the way, learn a few things about perseverance.

DiChiara’s performance as Kai has already generated significant buzz, given the scarcity of openly transgender actors in trans roles in both television and film. Ward told HuffPost he and the movie’s casting director spent four months auditioning hopefuls before selecting DiChiara, who recently won a Young Artist Award.

“Before I wrote the script, [producer] Terry Nardozzi and I discussed “Relish” being about five teenagers who need inclusion in their lives to survive,” Ward said. “I knew this was a character I had to handle with care ... [Tyler’s] tape was raw, over-the-top, and it was clear he had very little experience, but man, did he get it! His choices were clear, smart and real. He was Kai.”

The filmmaker was adamant that Kai be set apart from other transgender characters in that he had “other interests and quirks ... that existed beyond [his] gender identity.”

“This character would be wild, the life of the party, confident,” Ward said. “Flawed? Absolutely, just as much as the rest of the teens, but not the victim. [He’s] a strong character who loves life and wants to make the most of it.”

“Relish” debuts Sept. 6 at the Burbank International Film Festival.


POST MAGAZINE - Authored piece on composer Rio Mangini

FILM THREAT - Film review

POP CULTURALIST - Interview with actor Mateus Ward


Sometimes the most inspiring journeys that teens can embark on are the emotional ones that allow them to learn about the powerful bond of friendship, and that their differences are what make them special. Actress Hana Hayes is leading a compelling young cast in the new drama, ‘Relish,’ which emphasizes the importance of young adults learning to rely on others to help them deal with their personal demons. In honor of the movie gearing up to have its World Premiere at the 2019 Burbank International Film Festival, ShockYa is exclusively premiering the latest trailer from the feature.

‘Relish’ was written and directed by Justin Ward. In addition to Hayes, the drama also stars Mateus Ward, Rio Mangini and Chelsea Zhang, and introduces Tyler DiChiara.

The following synopsis has been released for ‘Relish’:

Five teenage outcasts escape a private treatment facility in hopes of attending the infamous Dreamland Music Festival. Led by a rebellious transgender male, Kai (DiChiara), and with help from Aspen (Hayes), a social media influencer; Levi (Ward), a football player addicted to opioids; Theo (Mangini), who suffers from bipolar disorder; and Sawyer (Zhang), an alien obsessed nerd, the five embark on the journey of a lifetime.

The movie brings a level of authenticity to the heart-wrenching struggles and challenges faced by modern teens, especially by the transgender community. DiChiara just made history at the 40th Annual Young Artist Awards as the first transgender Best Actor Recipient of the Academy.

‘Relish’ will be in competition when it has its World Premiere at the Burbank International Film Festival. The premiere will be held on Friday, September 6 at 8pm PDT at the Burbank AMC 16 Theaters (125 E. Palm Ave, Burbank, CA 91502).

For more information on ‘Relish,’ visit the feature’s FacebookTwitter and Instagram pages.


SHOCK YA! - Interview with director Justin Ward and actor Tyler DiChiara

QUEERTY - Posted an exclusive clip

GETTY IMAGES - Red carpet premiere photos


Producing team Adam Neutzsky-Wulff and Pauline Inda announced on Wednesday the official launch of their new production company Courageous Content, focusing on thought-provoking, timely and political indies.

Courageous Content has wrapped production on two new features. “All The Little Things We Kill” — a controversial hostage drama about the gun control issue in the U.S., — is seeking the festival route and distribution. The film stars Elizabeth Marvel (“Homeland”), Danielle Brooks (“Orange is the New Black”), Casey Cott (“Riverdale”), Jessica Sula (MTV’s “Scream”) and Scott Cohen (“The Americans”). And “You Are Here” — a drama about a young scientist who rounds up his dysfunctional family in a Malibu mansion to tell them he has terminal cancer — starring Peter Vack (“Mozart in the Jungle”), Anna Popplewell (“The Chronicles of Narnia”), and William Baldwin (“Northern Rescue”).

They currently have two more films in development: a controversial project about a political scandal in Kenya and another feature about police brutality in the U.S.

“One of the main focuses of Courageous Content is inspiring change by amplifying voices that don’t get heard,” says Adam Neutzsky-Wulff. “At the heart of it all is a deep need to be human and inspire change. We are issue-driven and designed to promote social responsibility. And we always make an effort to set a diverse and inclusive cast and team.”

Hailing from an artistic family in Copenhagen — with his father being a prolific writer — it was no surprise Neutzsky-Wulff would go on to pursue a career in film. He started off directing short films that won awards at international festivals, and expanded his experience to massive music video and commercial work, which led him to focus on narrative storytelling in the form of four national Danish TV shows. Inda was born in Kenya and moved to New Jersey to attend college. Afterwards, she enjoyed a very successful career in finance in New York City, a world that couldn’t have prepared her better for the film business. With her love for numbers and structure, coupled with Adam’s creative expression, they producing team is poised to make their mark.


BIRTH.MOVIES.DEATH - 'The Vast of Night' film review

BLOODY DISGUSTING - Posted an exclusive clip

NO FILM SCHOOL - Interview with director Andrew Patterson


'The Vast of Night': Film Review | Slamdance 2019

Andrew Patterson conjures a period perplexer of paranormal proportions in his cannily conceived debut feature.

Commercials director Andrew Patterson mines New Mexico's rich history of supposed UFO sightings, ET visitations and alien abductions in The Vast of Night, a throwback to '50s sci-fi anthology TV shows. By turns intriguingly odd and frustratingly obscure, this is confidently quirky material that nonetheless boasts superior production values with style to spare.

Patterson presents the film as an episode of the fictional Paradox Theater TV show, a series similar to the original Twilight Zone or The Outer Limits. In the opening scene, the camera tracks in on a TV set as the program begins, with the announcer solemnly intoning "You are entering a realm between clandestine and forgotten. Tonight's episode: 'The Vast of Night.'"

A long scene-setting shot dominated by impressively fluid camerawork introduces high school student Fay (Sierra McCormick) and recent graduate Everett (Jake Horowitz), the late-night DJ at AM radio station WOTW in fictional Cayuga, New Mexico. Working the nighttime shift at the town's telephone switchboard office, Fay tunes in to Everett's radio show before taking a call from an unidentified woman, who tells her in a panicky voice that there are three large objects hovering above her house before the line disconnects. Meanwhile, the WOTW signal keeps getting interrupted by a strange audio transmission that sounds like dozens of faint voices mumbling through heavy static. Fay picks up the same sound on one of the switchboard lines and patches it through to Everett, who puts it on air live, asking listeners to phone in if they recognize it.

It's not long before Fay transfers a call to Everett from a man who identifies himself only as Billy (Bruce Davis), a disabled veteran. Everett puts him on air and in a long, rambling account, Billy describes his domestic Air Force service, which involved several clandestine assignments, including one at a remote desert location digging tunnels that were intended to conceal something resembling a large aircraft. He says that the same type of transmissions that Fay and Everett have identified interrupted military radio communications at the site. When he and others on the secret mission came down with undiagnosed illnesses, Billy concluded that the buried craft might not have been of earthly origin.

Shortly after Everett broadcasts Billy's unsettling experience, Fay gets a call from Mabel Blanche (Gail Cronauer), an elderly woman who says she has a "companion" account that also involves the mystery transmission, but significantly pre-dates Billy's military service. By now the coincidental events in Cayuga are starting to suggest a pattern, but Mabel has something far more sinister to reveal that will send Fay and Everett on a quest that will radically change their perceptions about the Cayuga cluster of paranormal occurrences. For all their very public visibility however, these incidents taper off inconclusively by the end of the film, returning the town to its placid equilibrium.

The relationship between Everett and Fay also remains frustratingly tranquil. Although they're caught up in momentous events, they develop very little personal conflict, always pursuing the same objectives without disagreement or hesitancy, but there's never a hint of romance either. McCormick and Horowitz are charismatic enough as a team, but when they're rarely separated neither seems to project much individuation onto their characters.

Despite the film's aesthetic affinities for classics like The X-Files and Close Encounters of the Third Kind, co-writers James Montague and Craig W. Sanger have crafted a script far more akin to a radio drama than the demands of a sci-fi feature. In particular, several very long conversations dominate the film, constraining the action with fixed shots and unvaried locations that weigh on the pacing. Although the final third fulfills some of the movie's higher ambitions, these developments arrive too late and end too abruptly to convey much excitement.

When the camera is moving however, either tracking or mounted on a drone, Patterson and DP M.I. Littin Menz achieve a heightened sense of reality that's noticeably missing from many other scenes. Production designer Adam Dietrich was clearly allotted a good chunk of the shooting budget and the settings (mostly Texas locations), props and classic autos all clearly convey a mid-'50s vibe that's strongly reinforced with period wardrobe selections.

Venue: Slamdance Film Festival (Narrative Feature Film Competition)
Cast: Sierra McCormick, Jake Horowitz, Gail Cronauer, Bruce Davis
Director: Andrew Patterson
Screenwriters: James Montague, Craig W. Sanger
Producers: Andrew Patterson, Melissa Kirkendall, Adam Dietrich
Executive producers: Caleb Henry, Marcus Ross, Eric Williams
Director of photography: M.I. Littin Menz
Production designer: Adam Dietrich
Editor: Junius Tully
Music: Erick Alexander, Jared Bulmer

84 minutes


SALT LAKE MAGAZINE - 'The Vast of Night' film review

VARIETY - Slamdance curtain raiser

THE YOUNG FOLKS - 'The Vast of Night' film review


Sundance Dispatch: Beats and The Vast of Night


Sundance 2019 is nearly half over and so far I haven’t seen any narrative fiction films as exciting as two I saw in Slamdance, which is celebrating its 25th anniversary as the alt-Sundance. Over the years the funky festival at the top of Main Street has become a bit more savvy about projection and, while its headquarters are hardly glamorous or of any use to star gazers, there is a sense of creativity at the place—as if a film festival isn’t just about deals or networking. Although Steven Soderbergh got his big break in 1989 when sex, lies, and videotape played at Sundance (that year it was still called the U.S. Film Festival) he has always been supportive of Slamdance, which this year honored him with its Founders Award and put his photo in a bewitching long gray wig in the lobby—I guess so that no one would recognize him when he showed up in person. Soderbergh is the executive producer of one of the two terrific films I saw at Slamdance; Brian Welsh’s Beats, and he tipped me off to the other, Andrew Patterson’s The Vast of Night.

Although I’m pretty resistant these days to straight-white-boys-coming-of-age films, Beats is so tender in its depiction of the friendship between two working-class teens living in a wretched town in Scotland in 1995 and finding freedom through the rave scene, and is so accomplished in its storytelling—it’s not only the boys who escape their imprisoning lives in a druggy, mind-blowing, eye-opening, open-air, law-defying rave, but the film itself, in a third-act breakout that has the nerve not merely to sample the delirious experience of hundreds of kids coming together through music, but to sustain that delirium long enough to override conventions of how the climax of a film should be shaped—that I wanted to find out how and why it was made.

Welsh was 13 in 1995 and rave was his life. He became a DJ, did a lot of drugs and therefore wasn’t much of a student, but at a technical college he discovered that he liked to write and edit film. His work as a documentary editor led to the London Film School accepting him on an editing track, but he ended up directing a feature. “Just a student film,” he says, but it made it possible for him to get funding for what he considers his first film, In Our Name. What caught Soderbergh’s attention was his direction of the Emmy Award–winning final episode of the first season of Black Mirror. It helped, he says, that he didn’t know the rules of television and that he had a producer who didn’t care about that.

We talked in the Slamdance offices where Welsh had just arrived after an overnight flight from the Rotterdam Film Festival. Among the things he told me in a very few minutes was that, although he had been an editor, this film wasn’t found in the editing. Rather, it was fully storyboarded and it was the prep that allowed him to take the risk of the time-expanding rave sequence. The most difficult part was the casting. It wasn’t just finding the right actors for the two adolescent boys; there had to be chemistry between them. We have to believe that although they are polar opposites, their friendship is deep and necessary. He wanted Lorn Macdonald to play the volatile, wildly demonstrative boy, but finding an actor who could be his counterpart was so difficult that Welsh thought he might have to cancel the film. But Macdonald suggested that he see Cristian Ortega, who was in fact his friend, and it proved the perfect match. I think that Macdonald will get a lot of attention, and he should, but it is Ortega, who never seems to change his facial expression for the entire film, who draws you into the experience of finding freedom through music. It is a unique, even Keaton-esque performance, as true as it is strange, funny, and very touching.

The Vast of Night

Among the many things that can be said of The Vast of Night is that its director Andrew Patterson does the ’50s without a trace of David Lynch. Patterson, who’s in his mid-thirties, lives and works in Oklahoma and acquired his formidable technical skills through making commercials and promo pieces. He wrote and discarded many scripts before he arrived at The Vast of Night, which he describes as falling through a rabbit hole into an episode of The Twilight Zone, not as that piece of nuclear-panic Americana is ironically remade or reframed today, but as it gives the period and its representations, then and now, the seriousness it deserves. For me, The Vast of Night was the kind of discovery that one comes to Park City for, a display of visionary moviemaking intelligence equal to that of my most memorable Utah experiences; Richard Kelly’s Donnie Darko or Shane Carruth’s Primer, or for that matter, Christopher Nolan’s Following, which also premiered at Slamdance. The Vast of Nightis an alien invasion film in which the aliens are kind of heard but never seen. When I asked Patterson if there was a metaphor in the film for the terror about disenfranchised human beings crossing the Southern border, he said the film was not conceived in that way, but it was a fine interpretation. More about Patterson and his brilliant debut feature when it’s released.

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From last week's walkout at Google to the upswell in women's voices calling for gender equity in tech, Silicon Valley women have had something of a reckoning over the past few years. While actress Amanda Crew may not literally work in the tech industry, she portrays someone who does: Monica Hall, her plucky character on the HBO sitcom "Silicon Valley." Though fiction, "Silicon Valley" tackles Silicon Valley's sexism problem through the lens of satire; hence, Crew's character has become a vehicle for the trials and tribulations of thousands of real-life women who work in the tech industry, and who see her as a vehicle for what it's like being a woman in Silicon Valley.

Besides being a dynamic actress, Crew is a voice for those who suffer with eating disorders — which includes 30 million Americans of all ages and genders. Crew got involved with Project Heal, which assists those with eating disorders in accessing treatment, when she realized that being silent about her eating disorder in her early twenties was only hurting her self. Eating disorders have the highest mortality rate of any mental illness, and she believes there remains a lot of stigma around this mental illness. In this interview, Salon spoke with Crew about her activism in the body image field, misogyny in the real Silicon Valley, and more.

This interview has been condensed and edited for clarity.

Nicole Karlis: I’d love to hear your thoughts on Silicon Valley. In the show, there aren’t many lead female characters either except for yours, Monica Hall. How do you think your character fits into the national conversation around misogyny in Silicon Valley — and the tech industry — right now?

Amanda Crew: The show is satirizing the industry, and sometimes the feedback is, “there should be more women on the show.” And it's like, well, that’s not an option because in the industry, there are more men than women. So, I like that they've stuck to keeping it as a man's world because that is what it is. With Monica, we get to see the weird uncomfortable awkward situations of just being a woman around a bunch of dudes all the time in this industry. So many women have come up to me and commented on how like “Oh my God, I do what Monica does. I've been in those situations like [having my office] outside the men's bathroom." I've gotten to know more people, more women in Silicon Valley, and again, it's another space where it's so disheartening and shocking to see that culture and that world and what these women are up against.

How do you think satirizing the excesses of tech, as done in "Silicon Valley," contributes to the overall conversation about the tech's excesses in our society?

I think they've touched on how this can be a really dangerous and damaging thing, and sometimes it's done in a subtle way, and sometimes it's done very overtly. It can really make you think — like, what they have done with Fiona, this guy is in love with this robot. It’s like that's a real thing, and that can feel like where our world is headed.

Can you share with me how you got involved with Project Heal and what that experience has been like for you so far?

I had decided that I wanted to align myself with an organization that was doing work in the field of body image and specifically eating disorders because I had an eating disorder in my late teens and early twenties. I had never really shared that publicly and had realized that I had been kind of keeping that a secret because I felt ashamed, even though I had recovered and I was healthy again.

I know there's the stigma surrounding eating disorders. There's a misunderstanding around them and I fear that if people knew this about me that they would miss label me as the self-obsessed actress who wanted to be super skinny and took it too far. That's the stigma is so damaging to people who are struggling with this and, who are keeping it a secret and are suffering in silence, when they don't need to. I realized by not speaking out about my journey that I was just furthering that narrative. And so last year I decided that no I didn't want to keep that a secret anymore and I wanted to use my platform for good, and that I wanted to speak out about this.

When I spoke with Kristina [Saffran], who's the CEO of Project Heal, and heard what they were doing I just knew that they were the organization that I wanted to work with. I felt that they had a fresh perspective on it. It wasn't this sterile, medicinal look at [eating disorders]. It’s something that has been so fulfilling for me to give back in the space, and that has been helpful to me too.

That's so inspiring. I'm happy that you found an organization that you really connected with and that seems like it's been life-changing for you. You said you were silent about your eating disorder for a while, was there something specific that prompted you to really want to share your story last year?

I felt just like the political climate last year, and with women's rights and just the energy in the world, you really just saw a lot of women stepping up and not being quiet anymore about a lot of different things. I was also waking up to that realization of like “Oh wow, you've really been silencing yourself about this out of fear of judgment. And that's not helping anyone. And it's not helping you.”

It was an empowering thing to myself. It felt almost like the final step in my recovery in kind of having this compassionate, loving moment of almost like apologizing to myself. It was a release.

In society, we just want—for example, on social media—to try and show all the good stuff that's going on. That’s the image that we often project to our friends and our jobs and everything. And so we were taught that anything that's dark about ourselves to hide it, and that no one wants to know about it, and that no one wants to see it. We just want to feel happiness, and so like we push that s**t down, and we dismiss it and diminish it. This felt like a way for me to know and honor that part of me because that is who I am, and that has made me the person that I am. Getting through that and recovering is part of who I am.

It sounds like self-acceptance has been a big part of your recovery process. Can you share more about that?

I think it's especially something that women struggle with, I think men have their own version of it, but especially with women and especially with women in the film and television industry. From a young age, everyone would always tell me, “Don't forget you have a shelf life, once you turn 30 or 35 your career is over so start thinking of a backup.” And so you're just constantly made aware that you’re only valued for the way you look.

It’s an awful idea. Magazines only have super young skinny white girls on the cover. Disney movies are about the princess being saved by a guy. All of this messaging says that your worth is based on your outside image, and I was just on autopilot for a while. I never questioned it until later in life which I think is the case for a lot of women. I'm so grateful for the world we're in now because I think younger girls are being raised with a deeper awareness and different perspectives on all of this. And even media is changing, yes there's a lot of work to do, but it's at least changing and shifting and I'm grateful for it. I’m excited for the younger generation because they're growing up with a different narrative or at least another narrative going on. But that wasn't the way that I grew up.

I was really skinny as a kid and had older women praise my prepubescent body, which is a really disturbing thing. They would say, “oh my God, you're a bottomless pit, you just keep eating and you're so skinny, I wish you could eat as much as you and be as skinny as you.” Looking back, it was so damaging, because the message I received was “you're skinny, I wish I was skinny, you're lucky.” And once you lose that, being skinny, you're nothing. When I started to go through puberty and my body started changing it really freaked me out and I felt like I was losing what people valued about me.

Like you saiddo think the narrative is changing for young women today, but with social media there is this pressure to post these perfect photos of yourself.

I'm conflicted on social media because there are also so many of these incredible pages for girls with body positivity messages, and showing them a different narrative of acceptance and demystifying all of those Cosmo headlines. On the other side of it, there are these really influential influencers and celebrity models. They're like 18 and they're getting fillers and they're getting injections, and then photoshopping those photos.

More women are running for office, which is very exciting. I’m curious what you think can be done at the legislative level for people who have eating disorders?

It’s so great to see more women running, because the only way that we're going to have women's health recognized is with more women there. The most alarming thing to me since getting involved with Project Heal is to see how unrecognized the [eating disorder] space is as far as funding, and the level of seriousness that people take it. I think again there is a stigma around it, that it's a choice, that it's just kind of a woman's vanity issue when in fact it actually affects — a third of people affected by eating disorders are men, and that's also something that like I can't imagine how hard it is for men who struggle with eating disorders.

There’s a stigma that it's a woman's issue. So what guy is going to come forward and say, “I'm struggling with this.”  Also, for women of color it's it's really not recognized either. They say that it’s a white girl's problem, and that's not true. It doesn’t discriminate [for] gender, ethnicity, socioeconomic background or any of that. This affects 30 million Americans, yet only 10 million dollars is being raised each year collectively for these organizations.

For director Justin Ward, when it came time to cast the transgender role in his independent feature "Relish," "It never crossed my mind," he said, not to use a transgender actor. "In this day and age, you would never cast a white man to play a black man. This is the way to look at (transgender casting) now."

PHOTO: Tyler DiChiara in the film Relish. Zusha Goldin/Ohana Films
Tyler DiChiara in the film Relish.

Ward cast novice actor Tyler DiChiara, 18, who immediately fell in love with his character, Kai, one of five teens outcasts who escape a private treatment facility.

"The thing with this character, he’s not victimized," said DiChiara, who is transgender. "He’s a strong independent man."

He continued, "Kai is the life of the party. Other than his issues of being trans, he’s just a man who happens to be trans. I felt like I went through everything that Justin wrote in this script...fear of the future...getting into relationships. The only thing different about Kai is that he is trans."

Ward just wrapped post-production and is looking for a distributor, but already the cast was featured in Variety. And DiChiara has found his calling. At a recent audition, he went for the part of a cisgender man.

"I was just a gay man, a regular man," he said. "That actually made me tear up. I'm going for a cis role. It's crazy how this world is changing."

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ManM Productions and Ohana Films have wrapped post-production on “Relish,” a drama starring Tyler DiChiara and directed by Justin Ward.

The film tells the story of five teenage outcasts who escape a private treatment facility. Led by a rebellious transgender male (DiChiara), the group embarks on a wild, life-changing road trip – ultimately discovering they have a lot more in common than they ever imagined.

DiChiara endorsed Scarlett Johansson’s recent decision to drop out of her role as a transgender man in “Rub and Tug.”

“I think trans people should have the opportunity to play trans people, just because we get so few opportunities to get hired as actors,” said DiChiara, “I love what Scarlett Johansson did.  She gave the trans community a voice finally. She is helping us be seen. I also want to thank the trans community for standing up and speaking out.  We need the trans youth – more now than ever – to see more of us in films, in professional careers, and doing things beyond negative stereotypes and projections. “Relish” is about inclusion and acceptance, and I am honored to have played a leading role in it.”

Ward’s credits include “The Meanest Man in Texas.” MANM Productions’ Terry Nardozzi is on board as producer – her first feature film following her involvement with a string of Broadway productions.

“We did a nationwide search for a real transgender person and found DiChiara, who is a tremendous actor and human being,” says Ward, “At its core, this is a story about unity and acceptance, and the freedom to be yourself.”

Other “Relish” cast members include Mateus Ward (“Murder in the First”), Hana Hayes (“Insidious: The Last Key”), Rio Mangini (“Bitch,” “Everything Sucks!”), and James Morrison (“24”). Mateus Ward is co-producing and Brad Wilson is the consulting producer, who formerly operated Robert Duvall Productions.


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THR’s at-a-glance look at the week in representation news

Who got signed, promoted, hired or fired? The Hollywood Reporter’s Rep Sheet rounds up the week in representation news. To submit announcements for consideration, contact

Gunning for Hollywood
NASCAR Cup and Daytona 500 champ Kurt Busch has signed with ICM Partners as well as Orlando-based Livewire Entertainment for management. “We are thrilled to be working with a premier talent such as Kurt and believe he has a long and great future in television ahead of him,” ICM’s Matt Sorger and Lou Oppenheim said in a joint statement.

Said Livewire founder Joe Mulvihill in a statement, “I am thrilled to be a part of Kurt’s team and to help elevate his career in and out of the NASCAR world where he has already made a big splash.”

Mexican star Cecilia Suarez has signed with manager Byron Wetzel of Wetzel Entertainment Group. The Mexico-born actress actually began her career at Chicago’s Steppenwolf Theatre before becoming a box-office draw in Latin America with films such as Tales of an Immoral CoupleElvira, I Will Give You My Life but I’m Using It and Blue Eyelids. In 2009 she became the first Spanish speaker to receive a best actress International Emmy nomination, for HBO’s Capadocia. Suarez also has received accolades for stage productions such as Teatro de los Insurgente’s El curioso incidente del perro a media noche, La Rama del Teatro’s Hermanas, Teatro Juan Ruiz de Alarcon’s Otelo and the Goodman Theatre’s Electricidad. She has been seen on Netflix’s Sense8, NBC’s Medium, ABC’s Boston Legal and Lifetime’s For the People, where she was a series regular. Suarez currently recurs on the Disney Media Latin America series El Cesar and will soon be seen on Netflix’s La Casa de las Flores and MGM’s Overboard remake.

Wetzel also has signed Belgian actor Ronald Guttman, who plays Denis on AMC’s Preacher. He’ll next be seen in BBC/Netflix’s The Forgiving Earth and Focus Features’ On the Basis of Sex, where he plays a former professor of a young Ruth Bader Ginsburg (Felicity Jones). His other credits include The Good WifeMad Men and Mildred Pierce on television; NinaGirl Most LikelyPawn13Green CardThe Hunt for Red OctoberAvalon and Danton in film; and Picasso at the Lapin AgileBauer and Master and Margarita on stage.

CAA has promoted 10 trainees to agent or executive:

  • new TV lit agent Austin Denesuk in Los Angeles
  • new music agents Bennett Beckner and Madison Lee in Nashville and Joseph Harris and Joe Mott in Los Angeles
  • new CAA Foundation executives Callie Rivers and Maddy Roth in Los Angeles
  • new CAA Golf executive Beth Enstrom in Jacksonville
  • new CAA Sports talent sales agent Tee Stumb in New York
  • new speakers agent Erik Telford in Los Angeles

Paradigm has promoted Margaret Bushart to general manager of the Nashville office, where her responsibilities will include liaising with the Music City community and serving as primary point of contact for the agency’s local public relations and charitable initiatives in addition to continuing to oversee office administration. “In her five years with us, Margaret has proven herself immensely capable and a true leader on our team,” Nashville office head Jonathan Levine, whose desk will continue to be managed by Bushart, said in a statement. “She’s the heart of our Nashville office and will do us proud as the face of Paradigm’s operations, alongside our extraordinary agents, to the wider Nashville community.”

Scale Management has promoted Kai Gayoso from talent coordinator to junior talent manager. He began his career in the UTA mailroom and worked for digital/branding agent Sarah Early, UTA Marketing principal David Anderson and digital media head Brent Weinstein before moving to ID-PR and working for vp digital strategy Natalie Bruss. “I am so excited to watch Kai continuously grow and continue to further the development of his career within Scale Management,” partner Kyle Santillo said in a statement. “He comes from an extraordinary background within the entertainment industry and I am thrilled to see him building out his own roster. With the help of Kai and his knowledge of the media space, we are excited to continue the growth of the organization and further bridge the gap between digital and traditional media.”

New year, new companies
Big Frame manager Byron Austen Ashley has formed his own management/production company, Settebello Entertainment, but will maintain a strategic partnership with his former employer, including a first-look digital deal with Big Frame’s parent company, AwesomenessTV. The Canadian native, 27, was one of Big Frame’s earliest employees and over nearly six years became its senior-most executive, helping digital talent transition to roles on traditional platforms including Netflix, Game Show Network, BET, the U.K.’s Channel 4 and Canada’s Family Channel. Ashley, who recently executive produced digital projects for New Form and Lakeshore’s Off the Dock, as well as the Streamy-nominated Vimeo original film Bad Night, currently is executive producing Wes Armstrong’s Facebook series Couples Night.

Former Big Time PR publicist Mitch Swan has formed Millennial PR, which will represent narrative features, documentaries and short films accepted into festivals, as well as web series and shortform content. The veteran publicist has worked on more than 100 film campaigns and represented projects at Sundance, Slamdance, SXSW, Los Angeles Film Festival, Santa Barbara International Film Festival and Palm Springs International Film Festival, as well as the 2016 Emmy-nominated web series Her Story.

New year, new gig
Strategic communications consultant of 42West, Alexandra Stabler, is joining Endeavor’s global partnerships team as a senior account manager, where she will lead strategy for client Imperative Entertainment (All the Money in the World).

On the stage and the page

Actor Erik Liberman has signed with Vanguard Management Group for theater, TV and film. This year he appeared on Broadway in the original musical War Paint, starring Patti LuPone and Christine Ebersole, and last year he was in the acclaimed Off-Broadway musical The Band’s Visit, starring Tony Shalhoub. Liberman, who penned a piece for this summer about Jayne Mansfield, is co-author of the upcoming book Luminous Life: How the Science of Light Unlocks the Art of Living, out next year via New World Library. His screen credits include HBO’s Vinyl, Cinemax’s The Knick and A&E’s Unforgettable. Liberman continues to be represented by Abrams for commercials.

Others on the dotted line
Katz PR has signed Abigail Savage, who as Gina Murphy on Netflix’s Orange Is the New Black has shared three straight SAG awards for best ensemble and is again nominated for a fourth. She continues to be represented by Meg Pantera Agency and The Green Room.

Portrait PR has signed Lesley-Ann Brandt, who stars as Mazikeen on Fox’s Lucifer. She continues to be managed by Matt Luber at Luber Roklin.

42West has signed actress Bojana Novakovic, whose current credits include I, Tonya and CBS’ upcoming James Patterson drama Instinct.

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