June 20, 2005
Puppet film world premiere socks it to Atlanta Film Fest
BY Michael Terrazas
Shooting any feature-length film can be difficult. The problems are magnified, so to speak, when the leading man is 14 inches tall.
Such was the challenge facing Eddy Von Mueller and Evan Lieberman, two faculty members in film studies, as they co-directed The Lady from Sockholm, which made its premiere June 12 at the Atlanta Film Festival as the world’s first all-sock puppet feature film. The 71-minute story, shot in a style that spoofs vintage Hollywood film noir, debuted at the Rialto Center for Performing Arts to a crowd of about 350, its co-directors estimated.
“I was astounded; the attendance was so much better than I’d hoped for,” said Von Mueller, a doctoral candidate in the Institute for Liberal Arts who has taught film classes at Emory. Co-director Lieberman is a lecturer in film studies.
The pair got involved with the project after seeing the Sockholm screenplay, written by Lynn Lamousin, who once took a film class under Von Mueller. The script had placed in the top 10 at the prestigous Slamdance screenwriting competition. Another director had approached Lamousin and offered to help produce the film, but at a budget Von Mueller and Lieberman both thought was needlessly expensive. They volunteered their services, and pre-production began about a year and a half ago.
Starring in the film is the dashing Terrence M. Cotton, who at the 1943 height of Wool War II is hired by wealthy socialite Heelda Brum to investigate the mysterious disappearance of her husband, Darnell. Through all manner of sock-puppet punning, the script explores a serious subject—the dangers of prejudice to society—in a way that entertains children but appeals on another level to adults.
That The Lady from Sockholm received its premiere in Atlanta is only fitting, say its directors.
“Atlanta is a world-class center for two kinds of art: hip-hop music and puppetry,” said Von Mueller, alluding to the Center for Puppetry Arts, which has been entertaining audiences of all-ages since Jim Henson and Kermit the Frog cut the ribbon at the center’s opening in 1978. “People come from all over the world because of the puppetry center.”
The film’s directors, however, had never before filmed puppetry for the screen, and they relied on a talented cast and crew that included more Emory graduates than not, Lieberman said. For example, 1990 Emory College graduate and renowned clown/vaudeville performer Vince Tortorici supplied the voice (and the hand) for Cotton.
“He gave this sock puppet so much personality just by the smallest twists of his hand,” Lieberman said, “that you really forget you’re watching a puppet.”
The two directors said they each boast complementary skills and thus experienced little to no creative tension on the set, but they did admit to a learning curve when it came to dealing with their unique brand of talent.
“There was the whole ‘talk to the puppet’ thing,” said Von Mueller, explaining that initially when he or Lieberman offered direction to the puppeteers, they were politely asked to steer all artistic notes to the “characters” under the lights.
There were also technical challenges. Working with a world in miniature, with tiny costumes and typewriters and cars (for the twisting-mountain-road car-chase scene, of course), required shooting with a telephoto lens to make the scenes look life-sized. Longer lenses have shorter focal lengths, which meant “these really tiny ‘actors’ had to hit their really tiny marks, and hit them precisely,” Von Mueller said.
Both directors called the whole experience fun and deflected much of the credit for the film’s success to Lamousin, who produced it through her Kittyboy Creations production company. Sockholm (www.sockholm.com) already is scheduled for screenings at more film festivals, including KidFest in Orlando, Fla., on July 26. Von Mueller and Lieberman said they are working hard to schedule a screening on the Emory campus this fall.
Most gratifying of the movie’s Rialto premiere, Von Mueller said, was the number of laughs. “They laughed early, which was encouraging; if they don’t start laughing early in a movie, audiences develop a ‘laugh callous,’” he said. “I’ve had people tell me it was ‘a laugh a minute,’ so if we get 71 good laughs out this movie, I’m happy.”