In one of the most joyful films I saw at Dances With Films, three interweaving stories bring together strangers searching for redemption outside of themselves. More than just a structural twist, Stuart McBratney’s POP-UP allows us to glimpse the inner sadness that we all have as we try to make it through the world alone, and how much delight there is to be had in truly connecting with another person. This Australian/Romanian co-production brings together an excellent cast of unknowns (in America at least) – Clara Voda, Eugene Gilfedder, Greg Powell, Ellacoco Hammer, Brenton Prince, Evan Olman, Maria Ploae, Laura Vasiliu – each of whom fill their roles with life and depth. Although at times it is possible for the audience to get lost in the ensemble, the end result of POP-UP is to see just how we play a small part in everyone else’s life and in pursuing our own happiness, we can often give happiness to others. If that sounds like a love fest, it isn’t. McBratney’s film is filled with bitterness and despair, just like life. But in a catharsis only truly possible onscreen, the writer/director brings each of his centerpiece characters to a new understanding.
Eugene Gilfedder plays Mick, a down on his luck electrician and single father who cannot ride elevators, but takes to washing cars at intersections just to make a few dollars to print up copies of a photo he found of a woman’s face in a lost camera. When he finds the woman the camera belongs to, she is just an elevator ride away in the hospital. The woman, “Rada” played by Clara Voda, is recovering from a desperate night of loneliness after her long-term boyfriend abandons her the first second someone else finds him attractive. Strolling down the street to deliver a series of pop-up cards to everyone she knows, she’s run over by a man with a suitcase, sending her to the hospital. This man, “Neil” is played by Greg Powell, has also lost his love. She was a woman he proposed to in an online video that went viral, a video that Rada watched and loved, which inspired her to try to find love like that. Now single, Mick is haunted by images of his ex-girlfriend who is now plastered on posters on every street for the release of her movie, a role she got due to her viral popularity.
What I love about this film is its command of its scope. With so many characters and plot lines it would be easy to fall into the trap of trying to give us the full picture of each story. Instead McBratney offers us a few choice scenes that paint a fuller portrait, an image of longing. Individual characters fall away in service of something much stronger, theme. This is the sign of a true artist. And no one can argue that this isn’t Stuart McBratney’s film. In addition to writing and directing, McBratney comes away credited as Producer, Composer, Editor, Sound Editor, Digital Effects, and even Casting. I would love to see what he could do with the crew at his disposal and a bigger budget.
This is also what makes film festivals like Dances With Films so important. This is a small film, a film that is not crafted to catch the attention of the glamour festivals like Sundance, SXSW, or Tribeca. There is no cast to speak of, there’s no development for years in a workshop with ‘safe’ producers, there is really nothing to recommend this film other than a well told story and mastery of craft. The programmers at Dances With Films are able to give this superb indie gem a showcase for not just the director, but all the actors inside. At the festival I saw film after film of willful determination, determination to break into an industry that offers nothing but closed doors. Dances With Films may not be inside those doors, but it offers a platform, maybe a ‘pop-up’ screen on top of that platform, that people inside the building next door might be able to see from their open window. I hope they come out and visit their neighbor, just like the characters in Stuart McBratney’s film find the will to do.
POP-UP is currently playing the festival circuit. After taking home an Honorable Mention for the Grand Jury Prize at Dances With Films, Stuart McBratney’s film is one of 7 features selected for the Hollywood North Film Festival in Ontario, Canada this weekend and has been selected for the World Panarama section of the Jagran Film Festival in India – which tours across 16 Indian cities, starting next month.