Reporting Eric Henderson
It’s been a few months since the Twin Cities Film Fest, but St. Anthony Main is giving one of the festival’s award-winning movies an official premiere this weekend.
Lambent Fuse, a multi-character drama that examines the intersections of six varied characters, was awarded the “Best Minnesota Feature” prize at the fest last fall, and has also been cited as the best dramatic feature at the Highway 61 Film Festival.
On Sunday at 6 p.m., the cast and crew will be present for a screening and Q&A for the film, along with some extra performances from local artists. I had the chance to shoot a couple questions at the movie’s director Matt Cici (who co-wrote the script with David Marketon) in anticipation of the event.
ERIC HENDERSON: So Lambent Fuse was your first feature film and it won an award as the Best Minnesota Feature at the Twin Cities Film Festival. That’s got to be encouraging, right?
MATT CICI: It was an amazing experience to win Best Minnesota Feature for Lambent Fuse, and we followed it with the award of Best Drama Feature at the Highway 61 Film Festival. The festival experience was a blast! We screened a nearly finished cut of the film at the beautiful Showplace ICON Theatres in St. Louis Park. We were the only film to completely sell out, including 2011 Sundance winner Like Crazy, and did so within 12 days, illustrating such a wonderfully supportive community fan-base.
It was a day when everything came full-circle, and we could sit back and be proud of what we all made together. It’s as much a community project as it is our own. Minnesota businesses and individuals stepped up and supported the project because they believed in it. It is a Minnesota film made in Minnesota by Minnesota.
HENDERSON: The structure of the film, which involves multiple characters and a jumbled chronology, seems somewhat inspired by the likes of Crash and Babel. Did you take any cues from this sort of panoramic character study? Are there any other films or filmmakers you count as insiprations?
CICI: When we first described the film to people unfamiliar with the story, they often were able to digest the information easier when saying “Think Crash meets Pulp Fiction.” However, it’s not really easily comparable to those or any other films. It really focuses a lot on six characters, which even those films don’t do. We never really borrowed elements from either Crash nor Babel, in fact David Marketon, co-writer, has never seen Crash and I only watched Babel after the fact.
When we first set out to write, we planned on selling the script. However, after I had directed a few award-winning short films, I decided that I didn’t want to let this one go. It become our baby. Nearly a year later, and already a growing following, we decided to apply for a grant to polish the plot and character arc of the screenplay. We won, and began studying the techniques and method of screenwriting, because as you’ve mentioned our story challenges many aspects of writing a screenplay.
This gets me to the scripts we did study the most during our grant period: Fargo, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, and Pulp Fiction. We looked in depth at Fargo‘s drama and dialogue, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind‘s non-chronilogical story structure, and Pulp Fiction‘s character arc and plot structure. From the three months that followed, the project and we grew exponentially.
As far as films that draw inspiration, I constantly look to Reprise (2006), the first feature film by Joachim Trier. The music and cinematography were incredibly powerful. Because it focuses on mental illness, I was very much inspired by this film before starting to write Lambent Fuse. Some other films that we, the filmmakers, watched were Ratcatcher, Revanche, To Verdener, and those mentioned above.
HENDERSON: After a period of dormancy, it seems like Minnesota is once again becoming a hot spot for movie projects. What do you think draws filmmakers to the area?
CICI: Well, I don’t think many outside of Minnesota see us as a hot spot for film. We have low tax rebates compared to others surrounding us, which is a heavy draw for major studio projects. I don’t think the government really sees film as 1) an art and 2) a profitable, fundable venture, which is saddening to everyone who loves film (both filmmakers and film viewers). Film is both of these things, but because it doesn’t receive the attention it deserves the art suffers, and therefore the artists do as well.
We encountered several challenges, financially, in order to shoot Lambent Fuse. Donations, both in-kind and fiscally, were the major factor in our success. Many stepped up, as I mentioned before, to donate their time and/or services, or offered us discounted rates because of the project’s purpose.
I will say that Minnesota is an incredibly talented place for the arts. There are many developed artists that live and work here, and unfortunately they get overlooked or don’t have the resources to really expand further. That’s why we’ve developed a side project, entitled ‘The Blaze.’ ‘The Blaze’ is a movement dedicated to integrating the arts in Minnesota. We do this mainly through hosted events but plan to expand our online endeavors. Through events, we gather artists from all different genres (e.g. spoken word, music, theatre, paintings, etc.) and include them in our program for that evening. It’s free for artists to perform, and they can sell their merchandise without us taking any cut. This is truly a platform for them to showcase their work and gain a fan-base that they never would have tapped into before. Over just a few months in our pilot year, we’ve supported, showcased, and exposed 30+ artists to hundreds of new fans and will be showcasing two more at our Minnesota Premiere.
I think if we are to truly become a self-sustaining community, we must first become a community that supports itself.
HENDERSON: Tell me more about the movie’s depiction of depression. Was this a personal project?
CICI: I can’t say that we focused on depression because I or someone I knew had experienced it, but I don’t feel that that doesn’t mean it’s personal. Lambent Fuse, did not begin as a project that focused on mental illness. It molded into a story like that when I made my decision to direct it.
I am interested in the pursuit of developing a storytelling voice that is true and explores the depths of everyday life. The messages in today’s society are too sensationalized and, all too often, they’re not useful. An example of this is the movie, A Beautiful Mind, where the real-life schizophrenic, John Nash, is shown as a violent man. Sure, it provokes interesting discussion to show schizophrenia in this light, but it is an inaccurate portrayal of the condition, of reality, of truth. The movie received a lot of attention — winning 31 awards — but did a grave injustice to people with schizophrenia and their families. It is important to research the truths of life and explain them; an audience watches a ﬁlm for entertainment, but ﬁlm has also become one of the most powerful ways to send a message.
This film explores the depths of kleptomania, depression, and obsession — aspects of the human condition that are real but often underrepresented or misunderstood.
The overall goal of Lambent Fuse is to shift the paradigm of the stereotypical mental conditions shown in mainstream cinema by portraying the reality of mental illness and human choices in an eye-opening and innovative manner. Eidolon is a 30-minute short ﬁlm about a man wrestling for control as a schizophrenic was said to be one of the best representations of schizophrenia by a practicing psychiatrist. The careful illustration of each characterʼs true emotions and actions will showcase the psychological landscape in an educational and insightful way. This will give the audience a unique opportunity to experience these conditions along with the characters, forcing viewers to challenge their preconceived notions about mental illness and to approach the conditions with more understanding and empathy.
We plan to partner with mental health organizations in the future to further the discussion of mental illness. We feel this is key, because many of us may have or know someone with depression or another mental illness but don’t quite understand what that person is going through. Lambent Fuse is not a documentary, so it won’t tell you everything you need to know, but it does help spark dialogue. Watching the film helps to break down that barrier by giving an audience member a look into the mind of someone suffering from a mental illness. Since film is such a mass media, this is a great way to send a purposeful message, and we feel we did.