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The Queens World Film Festival returns for the 11th season, from June 23 to July 3, and opens the festival with two narrative films at the Museum of the Moving Image as well as online via Film Festival Flix.
One of the films, “Mouse,” shot entirely in Forest Hills and Kew Gardens by a crew based entirely in Queens, tells the story of lone gardener Michael (played by Joel Bernard Michael) who deals with the overwhelming guilt of ‘a local murder. Eventually, he gets lost as he desperately tries to hold onto an innocence he never truly lost.
“Mouse” explores what can happen to a guilty person even if they haven’t done anything wrong, but thinks their inactions have led to a tragic event.
QNS met the team at Ateaz, a cozy cafe located at 116-29 Metropolitan Ave. at Kew Gardens, to discuss the film.
Director and producer Adam Engel, who co-wrote the screenplay for “Mouse” with Jase Egan, explained that the “film germ” was based on a former neighbor, described by Engel as a gentle, petite woman, who was convinced her downstairs neighbors were shocking her through the floor.
One day, she claimed to have found a screwdriver in her house that did not belong to her and that Engel’s uncle had stayed with her for two days, who had not observed anything unusual.
Engel gave writer and actor Egan, with whom he co-wrote the 2014 thriller âOn a Country Road,â the gist of his idea, and then they started to collaborate.
Below, listen to more information from the crew about their process. Some answers have been edited for clarity and space.
Engel: “As usual, he [Egan] starts plugging in its segments. It helps to flush out and fill in the story.
Egan: “Usually we work from the concept of Adam, and he brought me two things: he brought me this crazy story and then he brought me another concept, which was just a word, âGuilt.â He said, ‘I want to do a guilt movie. How when you feel guilty about something, you can’t eat. Your food tastes gray. It doesn’t taste good. You can’t sleep. What’s wrong with you? “
QN: As you unfolded the story, did you both realize that the movie wasn’t about Engel’s former neighbor but about someone else watching that person?
Egan: âWhen you’re in the throes of something, you don’t necessarily see it. But the person who comes with his life sees it. And what’s interesting is when they start to slip and maybe start to take on certain characteristics or traits. We started to play with it. We played with the guilt and how that can lead to things like paranoia and loneliness. “
QN: So, Michael is a witness to a murder?
Engel: âHe doesn’t witness a murder. Iris, played by Caroline Ryburn, calls her, kind of like my uncle, and she says, “Can you please stay here with me tonight?” It’s getting too weird for him, and he leaves. Then when we see him, he doesn’t sleep, like he doesn’t throughout the film. And that morning he gets a call from her saying that the neighbors next door – the neighbors she claimed to torment her – were killed with a gun, very similar to the one he had seen in his apartment the day before. Even though he hasn’t done anything, he feels so guilty for saying nothing and doing nothing. And he just walks around with it.
QN: How would you describe your main characters?
Egan: âThe main character is a good person. But also inactive and always trying to avoid things, in a way. One of the things that [Engel] and I stumbled across the fact that we started doing it more is that paranoia can be a form of narcissism because you think you are so important, that some people resent you, that you have do something. And it can be due to something like the guilt of not doing something when you knew you should have done something, and it cost someone else dear and affected the world you live in. in a very interesting way.
Engel: “My father always called this person [the elderly female neighbor] “Smile” because he always heard about what was going on in his life and she was very inactive. So you had these external pressures, and she just festered with them and never acted. He would call this type of person “a mouse going into his hole”. So you can apply this to the main characters in the movie. Then you have this other aspect of a mouse: when they get caught in a mousetrap, the glue trap, for example, and what they do, they’ll try to get out, and the more they sink into the glue. , most of them will chew on their legs. Now you’ve got this guy, who’s a mouse at heart, but now feels so watched and so guilty that he’s going to start eating his own metaphorical leg.
Egan: “When we first met him [Michael], and he’s dealing with this woman [Iris], we watch her go crazy. We look at his neuroses, and we see it through his eyes where it’s like, “that’s kinda ridiculous.” [Engel], in a very subtle and brilliant way, is where you are with Michael on his journey. You don’t realize how she got there.
QN: Cinematographer Derek Mindler, who was introduced to Engel by the film’s producer Vanessa Bontea, said he believed after reading the script they should shoot the film with an anamorphic lens.
Mindler: âI love movies like ‘Taxi Driver’ and ‘Zodiac’, which were our visual references. So we were aiming for something in this area. And we felt like we had to shoot the movie with just one anamorphic lens, because it feels like a big screen view. We found the perfect type of bespoke lens on eBay.
Engel: ” It’s very rare. Usually movies are shot with five, six different lenses.
QN: How did that happen ? What kind of problem did you encounter and what were the challenges?
Mindler: âIt was sometimes a bit difficult to get wide shots because the lens was a 50 millimeter lens. With the anamorphic, it’s naturally wider than that, but it was still quite difficult to get wide shots, especially indoors.
QN: When you were in a very tight space, how did you get over it?
Mindler: âWe just had to be creative. We had like a little bundle of cameras, so we were able to get back into the corners, and every inch counted. I was crammed into the corners, looking at the screen. But I think the single-lens thing is something that all filmmakers should at least try out at some point, as it provided a really interesting creative challenge and visual consistency throughout the film shot with the same lens. The front piece of glass literally looked like someone scratched it with sandpaper.
Engel: “But it ended up giving us that very bright old school feel.”
Mindler: âSo in the movie you can see there’s a little bit of glow in the highlights, and it’s not because we used a filter – it’s because of the lens. that interesting texture and 3D feel for the whole movie because it’s the same lens all the time.
Engel: âAs you know, 50 millimeters is the way the human eye sees. So I felt it was also perfect cause you look through [Michaelâs] the eyes. It sounds very natural, in a weird and scary way. But I loved the creative challenge. And considering what Iris and Michael are going through and are still looking at, it lends itself to a sort of binocular gaze like you’re peeking out.
QN: For costume designer Cristina Andrade, the challenge was to express the psychological changes of the characters through their clothes.
Andrade: “I remember [Engel] put together eight pages of the script, and I did something based on that character outline, and then we started pre-production. We had almost 30 days of cinema, so I had to go back and forth between days. From the first to the 25th day to the 13th day, all in one day. I was the only wardrobe that worked and I took care of every character, every extra. “
Engel: “And most of your characters have gone through massive psychological changes.”
QN: So, does the wardrobe reflect their mental state?
Andrade: âYes, you can certainly see how they are moving away or progressing. So at first everyone’s costume tells the same story, and Michael is actually really put together; he keeps everything in its place. And then in the end, he’s really clueless, a messy mess – thinking of nothing but the hunt.
QN: At the end of the film, will we learn why Iris is the way she is?
Engel: âI think the trip to the movie is a response to how she got to where she is. I think the ending is cathartic in a way. It’s deserved, in a way, because at the end of the day the movie watches someone sink deeper and deeper into the hole they don’t have to be.
To learn more about “Mouse” and the Queens World Film Festival, visit queensworldfilmfestival.org.