On the opening night of the first annual Buffalo Niagara Film Festival, Marc Benardout (director and co-producer) and Steven Sills (writer and co-producer) joined the audience during the screening of their film “Sinner”. Later in the week, “Sinner” won the Grand Jury Best Feature Film award from the BNFF. Buffalo Rising had the opportunity to chat with both of them about the film, the festival and of course, Buffalo.
BRO: What is "Sinner" all about?
Marc Benardout: Basically it’s a movie about redemption, and the title, "Sinner", obviously sparks a lot of connotation with what its all about…but ultimately a movie about doing the right thing, or not being afraid of doing the right thing. And it is set in contemporary America, somewhere in America, nowhere specific, and it’s about a priest who is carrying the weight of the Catholic Church’s misdemeanors on his shoulders. He’s going through a sort of midlife crisis, and into his life comes this hustler, and he is tempted by the hustler in various ways, and he doesn’t succumb to any temptations, ends up redeeming her and regaining his faith in what he does.
Steven Sills: Basically it’s the story of a priest whose calling has been tarnished by the scandals of the last five years and few centuries, who has to face his own demons and finds an unlikely muse in a way, its kind of the best way to describe her, a prostitute who insinuates herself into his rectory and his private room; these opposites who find something between them, which they didn’t expect.
BRO: What brought you guys to Buffalo? What made you choose this festival out of all the festivals?
Steven Sills: It was pretty easy. We entered festivals that had large Catholic communities. We found the film resonates most deeply first with the Catholic community, which we were very happily surprised by. Underneath that is the universal story, which we’re getting the whole spectrum of people responding to it, because regardless of the fact he’s a Catholic priest, his struggle is a very common one, a mid life crisis, where you wrestle with your own integrity. The Catholic Church happens to work out very well for that kind of story because a lot of priests are wrestling with the integrity of others. Buffalo, and New York, I’m from the North East, these are very much the places, you know, where this film works. We welcome it, we were let in, we are going to some significantly larger festivals, but this has a great sense of community.
Marc Benardout: We came here because you know, it matches for one thing, but to be selected—its an honor, we wanted to, you know, have a presence at the festival.
Steven Sills: Absolutely.
Marc Benardout: When you submit to all of these festivals, you see the way that some of the festivals operate, and specifically Buffalo, it seems to be set up in an extremely well organized way. I’ve been to a lot of film festivals, you see how other film festivals are, I’ve been going to film festivals all my life. This was obviously a very important festival for us, primarily for the demographic, and the importance in our film’s growth. The more we build our film, the better it is better going to be in terms of us getting a distributor and popular opinion.
Steven Sills: Yeah, definitely
BRO: What other film festivals have you been to?
Steven Sills: Garden State up to NY and Buffalo, Vale, Palm Beach, and Newport Beach in Florida and Brooklyn.
Marc Benardout: That’s just a list of the festivals we’ve been accepted to so far, we have a bunch of festivals pending…
BRO: You’re probably not at liberty to tell us which ones?
Marc Benardout: [Laughing] No no no…
Steven Sills: [Laughing] Oh no, yeah…we’re getting momentum. This is two months into our debut, and coincidentally it’s Lent. We’re premiering during Lent, which is coincidental.
Marc Benardout: It’s an independent film, these film festivals are very important for exposure, and I think it’s very incumbent on filmmakers to attend them, especially somewhere like Buffalo. I know the festival is set up to support local filmmakers and celebrate their work. We’re very grateful to have been chosen because we’re obviously outside that element.
Steven Sills: Its very much analogous to being in a rock band, and gigging out all over the country, and slowly building an audience to maybe getting a record deal. And I have to say, more and more it feels like that, and that’s kind of grassroots fun that is going into film festivals as a filmmakers.
Marc Benardout: We’re building our groupies.
Steven Sills: [Laughs] Yeah, we’re building an audience.
BRO: What does it mean to you to have won the Grand Jury Best Feature Film award at the BNFF?
Marc Benardout: It is truly an amazing honor, a vindication for all the hard work that everyone put into this film since low budget independent films are all about collaboration. It is a great indication that this is a film of quality and quantity and that a market exists for the subject matter.
BRO: Have you won any other awards at other film festivals?
Marc Benardout: Yes, we learned that we won Best Feature (Narrative) at the 41st Brooklyn Arts Council International Film and Video Festival. The award will be presented at the Brooklyn Museum of Arts on May 11th, 2007.
BRO: Buffalo Niagara Film Festival does it again? Would you come back?
Marc Benardout: Oh yeah, we’re alumni now.
Steven Sills: Definitely, we’re alumni, absolutely. Sundance is extremely loyal to their alumni.
Marc Benardout: They give preference to their alumni. It’s kind of ironic, because Sundance is supposed to be a first time filmmaker's festival, but has preference for its alumni.
Steven Sills: All the people who help us, help our film early on, we’re tremendously loyal to. Whether that’s an investor, a film festival or the first great review we get, which all of those people are starting to line up. We will remember all of them, fondly. Much more than in any other project where there is more money.
Marc Benardout: It would also help us in deciding to shoot in and around the Buffalo area that does help certainly with commercials or feature films, having built the relationship.
Steven Sills: We both also work in commercials, and oftentimes things like “where should we shoot this- not in LA?” come up. And this is the kind of thing where randomly, a relationship was established where “hey, we have some friends in Buffalo, lets give them a call and see if they can crew it up,” and so forth. But I think most of all these kind of artistic things bring an added dimension to the city that so many cities are neglecting. It’s pretty gutsy for someone to invest in a festival and to organize something like this.
For more information on “Sinner” check out the official site at www.sinnerthemovie.com.