The Multi-Talented Chicago Musician Willis Earl Beal Reveals an Introspective Animation
Avatars of Lionel Richie and President Barack Obama pop up in Willis Earl Beal’s animated exploration of everyday human values, trials and mediations, Principles of a Protagonist. Chicago-born Beal’s past lives include those of an army recruit and a night-shift security guard before he began recording music, promoting his work by leaving CD-Rs in public spaces around town, accompanied by hand-illustrated flyers. The autobiography-meets-fantasy concept behind Principles of a Protagonist originated in the form of a novella Beals wrote in 2010 while heartbroken and unemployed, and distributed as a photocopied 'zine. He has since hooked up with Hot Charity/XL Recordings, who put out his debut album Acousmatic Sorcery, last year, and are planning a sophomore release for late 2013. Beal continues to integrate his writing and drawing into his recording work, however, and today’s new installment of our Shorts on Sundays series is a testament to his many talents—visual, musical, and philosophical. "The Protagonist does what we cannot," Beal revealed to us in a brief artist's statement. "He embraces an inevitable destruction that is all inclusive. He knowingly constructs a set of principles that ultimately must dissolve within a meaningless void like the perceived order of life into the uncertainty of death."
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Our Director-Showcasing Series Continues With Stellar New Work Submitted Via Open Call
Rising star Annabelle Dexter-Jones takes a soul searching trip back to her character’s small-town past in Julian Ungano’s And After All, the first premiere chosen from our Short on Sundays open call via NOWNESS’ Vimeo page. Selected from over 200 submissions, the film throws the seemingly glamorous Manhattan art world into sharp relief when Jones’ protagonist is faced with real loss, forcing her to travel to a world she thought she had left behind—and rekindle a relationship in the process. “I lost my father when I was 15, and had been trying to put something together inspired by that,” explains Ungano of this deeply personal project, which stars a handful of New York scenesters including Byrdie Bell, Victor Kubicek and Heidi Mount. “Then sometime around Christmas in 2011 I lost my mother quite suddenly and I sort of rearranged things and was able to write the first version of the script in a couple days.” Ungano and his collaborator on the project, Tommy Agriodimas, met while students at the Pratt Institute and have since shot for clients including The New York Times, Elle, Ralph Lauren and Nike as well as DJing regularly around town and putting out their own publication, La Lutte Continue. Inspired by cinema verité, the camera work for their newest film draws the viewer into the experience of Dexter-Jones’ character. “I knew almost instantly that she was the right person,” says Ungano of casting the Manhattan-raised actress, daughter of Foreigner’s Mick Jones, sister of producer Mark Ronson, and muse to the likes of Leos Carax, Aaron Rose and André Saraiva. “She can appear supremely confident and then you blink your eyes and refocus them on her and she looks completely vulnerable.” We reached out to cast members Bell, Kubicek and star Dexter-Jones for their reflections on working with the industrious duo.
What was cool was that there was something very personal about the project. It had a lot to do with Julian's life, and when we were shooting we stayed in his house in Vermont where he grew up. I found that very helpful for me. I felt like Julian let me into this very intimate and sacred part of his life growing up.
I love working with Julian and Tommy because they are both uniquely talented but also compliment each other in a way that brings their voices to another level. I remember, specifically, on set when there were some lighting issues in the club scene Tommy so insightfully put Julian at ease by pointing out the narrative parallels illustrated by the juxtaposition of the cramped dark city scenes to the wide open Vermont landscape. That's my favorite part of the film—when we are viewers can breathe with Charlotte.
Julian and Tommy were confident and quick, young filmmakers who weren't too cautious and sluggish. They're very visually sensitive and were obsessed with setting up shots, so they let us do our thing. We had good fun. I know Annabelle, who was in it too, so we were able to goof around. Shooting over three days in the fall in New York City, some of the scenes were in Bungalow 8—but in the middle of the day!