Brooklyn filmmaker Keith Miller has been screening films with Rooftop since 2010, beginning with his short film Prince/William, followed by his award-winning debut feature Welcome to Pine Hill in 2012. Last year, we awarded his latest project the Rooftop Filmmakers Fund Equipment Grant, set to make its World Premiere tonight at Tribeca Film Festival In Five Star, Miller continues his tradition of blending documentary and fiction to create a film that raises important questions of race and class through the deeply personal stories of his characters. Called “Tarkovsky meets The Wire” by Filmmaker Magazine, Keith Miller’s latest film is sure to make your best-of list at Tribeca this year.
Rooftop Films: Your films often deal with the impact of crime and racial issues on the lives of your characters. Did you always imagine these themes would be central to your work?
Keith Miller: Social justice has always been a central concern of mine, but I am trying to make intimate dramas set within a specific social context. The choices of the characters in the movie are as affected by context as would anyone’s. I work to make that implicit and also make clear that these are never devoid of the personal inner life of the individual.
RF: Welcome to Pine Hill also deals with characters on the brink of a life changing moment, and the struggle to contend with consequences in their lives. Does this theme come from your own experience?
KM: All my work comes from personal experience, both in specific details and in the larger story. In both cases, I wanted to work in a world foreign from my own but with people I feel a great affinity for and closeness to. I think we often end up in life changing moments struggling to contend with the consequences of our choices.
RF: This is your second feature film to star non-professional actors, which gives your films a natural feel but also presents its own unique challenges. Can you talk a little bit about your directing process?
KM: When I direct I work to establish as safe and trusting an environment as possible, both with the cast and the crew. Since I never went to film school or worked on any other sets before I started making movies, I didn’t know the specific language required by that world. I pretty much do now, but I also learned that with actors with head shots (‘professional actors’) there is one type of language; with actors without head shots (‘non-professional actors’), there needs to be another. The cast and crew are very much aware that we may do three or more takes within one take, since I hate to cut too often, and that all of us must be ready for anything to happen and be ready to move in almost any direction. There is a lot of 360 degree shooting and I hope that gives the cast the feeling they can go anywhere both physically and emotionally.
For a scene I start with some basic goals in terms of mood, content, text. Some times this is very specific -precisely scripted dialogue, blocking, camera movements- and others it is more open and I try to push things along as we move, asking for a repeat of things or challenging the actor to go deeper or push more.
RF: For you last film, the story drew on the real life of its star. Does Five Star have similar origins? If not, how did you find the actors you worked with?
KM: The story began through conversations with Primo, the lead. Once I had specific ideas about manhood based on that conversation I combined it with other things.
RF: Five Star is making its World Premiere at Tribeca Film Festival! As a NY based filmmaker, are you excited to debut your film in New York City?
Yes. The idea that the cast and crew, the members of Brooklyn Filmmakers Collective, other fellow filmmakers, my former and current students and colleagues can share in the experience is great.
RF: Last year, you received the Rooftop Filmmakers Fund Equipment Grant. How did this award help you with your project?
KM: Rooftop is great and their support was a big help in realizing the film in its current form. Being a part of the rooftop world is inspiring.
RF: After Tribeca, what’s next on the horizon for Five Star?
Rooftop Filmmakers Fund Grantee Five Star makes its World Premiere TONIGHT at Tribeca Film Festival, Co-Presented by Rooftop Films. Buy Tickets here.
THU 4/17 9:00 PMBow Tie Cinemas Chelsea 7
FRI 4/18 8:30 PMAMC Loews Village 7 – 3
MON 4/21 8:30 PMBow Tie Cinemas Chelsea 4
SAT 4/26 2:30 PMBow Tie Cinemas Chelsea 4