Minnesota filmmakers at the festival

<i>Mondo Bondo</i> screens at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, April 23, at St. Anthony Main

Mondo Bondo screens at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, April 23, at St. Anthony Main

Tony Cane-Honeysett

Tony Cane-Honeysett, a mug of Stella Artois in hand, reclines in his high-top barstool. Eighteen years stateside haven't robbed his speech of a fine British tint that thieves the occasional "r," and his manner is playful, easy, and engaged.

"I cannot imagine needing a custard pie in the face to have an orgasm," he says plainly. "But someone out there does. Everyone has a kink."

Ropes, cuffs, nipple clamps, and all the miscellaneous tackle of America's most persistent sexual taboos (custard pies included) are the underdog protagonists of Mondo Bondo, Cane-Honeysett's immensely entertaining documentary about American bondage and its participants. Though bondage may not be the fearsome menace it was in the xenophobic days of American sexual antiquity, it is still a hush-hush underworld that is grievously misrepresented in popular culture as a subversive and often violent perversion.

"There's a subtext about rope and people," says Cane-Honeysett of the lingering misconceptions that haunt the bondage world. "It's lynching. It's Christ on the cross. All these images that play on people's subconscious. As soon as they see people in rope, they freak out."

Fortunately, Mondo Bondo is an odyssey of breezy, winking confrontation, one that uses its humor and wit to knock the wind out of the prejudicial bluster of an American sexual mainstream and bring into restorative sunlight an artful practice that is as much about aesthetic as it is about sex.

"My film is about the B and D, not the S and M," he points out, referring to the acronym BDSM, which stands for bondage, domination, sadism, and masochism. "They are extraordinarily different. The B and D that I saw is an art form. When you see the rope work involved, it's exquisite. It's absolutely beautiful. But I also saw a guy get strung up and have his back slashed up with razorblades. Covered in blood. To me, that wasn't artful. It was blatant exhibitionism. I couldn't grasp it psychologically."

Cane-Honeysett's interest in bondage was piqued after the release of The Royal Academy, his first feature-length documentary, about his mother's efforts to have her works of art shown at a prestigious London academy. That film netted him national exposure and several big-name awards. "I thought it impossible," he says of a friend's suggestion that he consider bondage as his next topic. "How do you make a documentary on that subject without making one long porno movie?"

It was a meeting with Craig Morey, a San Francisco bondage photographer, that warmed Cane-Honeysett to the idea. "He didn't fit my perception of the sort of guy that would take these pictures. He had a degree in psychology. He's married with two little kids. And he was the most normal person I've ever met."

The concept of normalcy is a latent antagonist throughout Mondo Bondo. By film's end, Cane-Honeysett comes to regard it with cheeky ridicule, and his path from hapless interloper to honorary initiate is surprisingly brief. "One woman walked into the room in leather boots," he says of an early interview. "Nothing else. Had her breasts bound tightly with rope and nipple clamps. And I interviewed her like that." Cane-Honeysett shakes his head. "A morning later, it was suddenly not strange. It suddenly felt very normal. And that's what was shocking to me."

Throughout the documentary, Cane-Honeysett's personal stake in the material rarely feels much weightier than fancy, and his curiosity is a powerful solvent to the anxieties that women in painful rope bondage would otherwise arouse in the outsider. "There's humor in it," he says of the doc, "but I'm the butt of the jokes. You can't poke fun at people for what they want to do."

All documentaries are a dare to unforeseen possibility, but Cane-Honeysett's film is particularly fraught with surprise. Early in the filming, Craig Morey, our Virgil in the bondage underworld, was diagnosed with throat cancer, and Cane-Honeysett's film suddenly stood on the edge of a razor. "I was stunned," he says. "But that story was there, staring me in the face. I had to confront it. What came about was that his cancer was a bigger bondage than anything he'd been involved in."

The development yields the film's most concise and startling insights into the essence of bondage and submission, and Cane-Honeysett finesses the disaster into a thematic anchor to which other surprises wrought during the filming are loosely affixed. Moving through its subject matter in swift, effortless strides, Mondo Bondo touches on vastly human complexities that multiply before the camera like Russian nesting dolls, a testament to the harrowing adventures known to any artist who uses reality as an inkwell.

Draining the dregs of his Stella, he summarizes those complexities with typical candor. "When you see that bondage can mean cancer and custard pies," he says, "the mind boggles." —David Hansen


Tommy Haines

Growing up in Mountain Iron, Minnesota, Tommy Haines began playing hockey on outdoor rinks and frozen ponds when he was five years old. Now he returns to the sport as a filmmaker with his new documentary, which makes its world premiere at the film festival this year.

When Haines heard that the first U.S. Pond Hockey Championships were going to be held in Minneapolis, he knew he had found his next project.

He began shooting the film in November 2005, in preparation for the tournament in January. He gathered interviews with local and international figures, everyone from Gov. Tim Pawlenty to professional hockey players Marian Gaborik and Wayne Gretzky. Other interviews were collected from Minnesota, Massachusetts, New York, New Jersey, and Nova Scotia.

"It's been quite the journey," he says. There were about 600 players in the tournament at Lake Calhoun, and Haynes had no idea how to corral the event into a film, but he says the story unfolded as he interviewed many of the players about why they still play the game.

He produced and funded the film with his local production company, Northland Films. Minnesota Film Arts organizers contacted Haines after they viewed a rough cut and asked if they could screen it at this year's festival. Haines says he couldn't think of a more appropriate place to premiere the film, given the history of the sport.

"It's very Minnesota-centric, so it's nice to show it for a local audience," he says.

"We're excited to unleash this thing." —Andrew Newman

Pond Hockey will have its world premiere Thursday, April 24, at 7:15 p.m. at St. Anthony Main Theaters. It will also screen Friday, April 25, at 7 p.m. at Oak Street Cinema and Wednesday, April 30, at 7:30 p.m. at St. Anthony Main.


Chris Gegax

Director Chris Gegax's latest film tells the story of a prostitute named Suzie and her encounter with a nun, who is reluctant to sympathize with the young woman's plight. But it's also about the ways the faithful see the unfaithful, and the problems all of us have understanding one another. Gegax took some big risks in the production—first he gave the part of Suzie to Katie Rhoades, a woman with no acting experience, on the strength of her enthusiasm and a background working with victims of prostitution. Then, when it became clear a permit to shoot on the Stone Arch Bridge wouldn't be available in time to meet the production schedule, his intrepid team set up on the bridge anyway, leading to a bit of adrenaline when the police drove by several times...and did nothing.

But the risks paid off. And though Hollywood may be the place to turn a profit in film, Gegax says he's glad to be working in the Cities. "If you're out there making money, movies may not be the path that you'd be going down. But at least at this scrappy, independent level, I think Minnesota is a really supportive community for moviemaking." Unlike L.A. and New York, he says, the arts scene isn't saturated with the culture of film. "It holds a bit of novelty in the community, and hence they want to support people who are doing that kind of thing."

Gegax sees the inclusion of a "Minnesota Shorts" category in the international film fest as a chance for the local moviemaking community to springboard its efforts. "It's that kind of interest that'll spur development of locally grown, larger-scale projects and investment in filmmakers," he says. "Everyone who's doing a short film is really excited about moving on to the next level, which would be a feature film. That's our dream.' —Ward Rubrecht

Forgotten screens as part of the "Minnesota-Made Shorts" program Tuesday, April 29, at 7 p.m. at St. Anthony Main Theaters.


Diego Luke

At nine years old, Diego Luke of St. Paul is surely the youngest film director at MSPIFF. His 12-minute documentary is essentially a very sophisticated home movie, filmed by his adoptive parents, about his trip to Central America to visit his birth family.

The quietly affecting film is a series of brief interviews with Diego, interspersed with scenes from his trip. As the film unfolds, the audience gradually begins to understand the true scope of the emotional journey Diego is being asked to make. He's reintroduced to his birth mother after meeting her several years ago; she works as a laborer in the coffee fields and lives in crushing poverty. He meets his paternal grandmother and aunts for the first time; they cry rivers of tears because his birth mother had told them he was dead after she gave him up for adoption. ("It was kind of weird," Diego says on film of his supposed death. "She [his mother] just wanted to protect me. She's a very kind woman.") We also learn that Diego's biological sister, Julia, who he met on his last visit (and who we see in an old film clip), has since been beaten to death by their absent father for stealing a mango.

Diego's commentary on these events, elicited in gentle but probing questions from his adoptive father, Dan Luke, can be heartbreaking, though Diego himself seems to accept it all fairly stoically. His low-key but charismatic presence carries the film. At times he acts like a typical nine-year-old; at others, he seems like a wise and weary old soul.

Dan Luke, a professional filmmaker, admits that he carried most of the water in putting the film together. He assembled the scenes and then showed them to Diego for his comments, as he does for his other film clients. Even so, he thinks his son has earned his "director" credit. "I've worked with many directors who have done less than Diego," he says. —Matthew Smith

Diego's Trip to Guatemala will screen as part of the "Minnesota-Made Short Documentaries" program Sunday at 7:45 p.m. at St. Anthony Main Theaters.


Melody Gilbert

The concept has an instant appeal: What would happen if college students who have grown up with computers were suddenly forced to live without them?

That's the subject of a new feature-length documentary from eight students at Carleton College, three of whom volunteered to live like electronic cavemen for several weeks: no email, no Facebook, no word processing or internet research for their schoolwork.

Their project was led by Melody Gilbert, a local filmmaker who was teaching a class in documentary production at Carleton, where the idea germinated. The film was fraught with cinematic challenges. For example, how do you capture "people sitting around not using their computers?" Gilbert says. Or, "How do you show boredom?" Because students use their computers at all hours, filming would require a huge time commitment.

The three volunteers were each assigned a videography crew to shadow them, and a camera to record a video diary when their classmates weren't around. For three to five weeks the students suffered through computer deprivation, learning new ways to accomplish daily tasks.

"One of my favorite parts of the film was when they learned how to use typewriters," Gilbert says. "Priceless."

The three students had very different responses to the challenge, Gilbert says. For one of them, Mitchell Lundin, a senior psychology major who gave up text messaging as well, the experience was more annoying than he expected, especially in trying to communicate with friends and professors who always answered promptly by email but now wouldn't return his phone calls. Any free time he might have had away from his computer was eaten up by having to write school papers in longhand and then typing them.

The filming was only the beginning of their assignment. Afterward, students had to transcribe and log the 73 hours of footage, edit the tapes, and assemble rough cuts, among other tasks.

"They were incredibly, incredibly dedicated," Gilbert says.

"It's definitely a good life experience to step back and try to live differently," Lundin says of his experiment. "But there's no way in hell I'm doing that again." —Matthew Smith

Disconnected screens Sunday, April 27, at 5 p.m. at St. Anthony Main.


Jesse Roesler

The entire paradigm for filmmaking is changing, says Minneapolis filmmaker Jesse Roesler. "It's looking more toward festival and online distribution. Getting into theaters is becoming less and less feasible."

That might be why people like Roesler, director of two films screening at MSPIFF, often rely on contests and festivals for exposure and success.

One of his films, Finding Flight, spans three generations of a family from Cherry Grove, Minnesota, through the common link of an airplane. In the late 1920s, Bernard H. Pietenpol built his own airplane with parts from a hardware store. Pietenpol didn't have formal training in engineering and never consulted a book—he simply found his own way.

Now his grandson has taken up the project of re-creating the "common man's airplane," as he calls it. When Roesler got in touch with him, he realized he was in luck.

"He said, 'I've always hoped somebody would make some sort of historical document of this,'" Roesler says.

So Roesler and his girlfriend, writer Jen Larson, got to work, using original footage of the senior Pietenpol and in-depth interviews with his relatives today. The resulting film recently earned an honorable mention at the Minnesota Historical Society's 2007 film contest, and he hopes to market it to a niche audience in the aviation community.

Roesler's second submission, Secrets of the Symmetrical Gentlemen, couldn't be any more different from Finding Flight.

Roesler and Larson teamed up with Mojo Solo, Roesler's creative agency, to write, shoot, and edit Secrets in two days, as a part of the 48-Hour Fall Film Shootout. This year, the national competition required participants to create a short comedy/action adventure film that featured a member of the Hatuchama, a secret society of people with supernatural powers.

Roesler says the specifications were just as crazy as the process. "We spent the first night writing after we received the requirements at 7 p.m. on Friday. I took one power nap on Saturday morning, from 5:30 a.m. to 6 a.m. It was madness," he said.

Roesler said he isn't sure that he would do it again but said he was "really happy" with the end result.

"I was thinking the whole time, 'I wish we had more time to develop these characters,'" he said. "You do it fast and on a budget. It's the hardest genre you can get." —Amy Lieberman

Finding Flight screens as part of the "Minnesota-Made Short Documentaries" program Sunday at 7:45 p.m. at St. Anthony Main Theaters. Secrets of the Symmetrical Gentlemen is part of the "Minnesota-Made Shorts" program, screening Tuesday, April 29, at 7 p.m., also at St. Anthony Main.