Art Institute of Atlanta students and filmmakers Jillian Kibler and Timothy Collins recently made their international debut at the Cannes Film Festival, with their short film Kiss of Death. The film premiered in a special student showcase at the Atlanta Film Festival and has already been nominated for multiple film festival awards. Kibler and Collins traveled to France to attend Cannes and screen Kiss of Death in the festival’s Short Film Corner.
Oz caught up with Kibler and Collins upon their return from France.
Give us a run-down on your film, Kiss of Death.
Jillian Kibler: Kiss of Death is an homage or tip of the hat to classic film noir. However, due to the current times and modern twists, Kiss of Death is considered a Neo Noir. It is a period piece set in the 1930s-1940s, about a criminal and his wife trying to leave town before sunrise, when an unexpected guest foils their plans. Some of the twists we threw in there would not be allowed during the times of classic film noir due to strict production codes. Though our twists are too risky for the times, we wanted to stay true to the moodiness, the lighting, the camera angles, the femme fatale…
Timothy Collins: …the black-and-white cinematography with heavy shadows, the crime element, the MacGuffin, and combine those elements with a couple of modern twists at the end that people would not expect in a film noir. We wanted to make a film that felt like it had been made in the 30s-40s but was never released because of the strict production codes of the times, and has only since been rediscovered.
What drew you to working in classic film-noir style, as opposed to a more modern approach?
TC: I've always been interested in film noir, especially the look of it. I love black and white photography and I think there is something inherently beautiful and artistic about it. I also love crime stories and stories with multiple twists and turns, so film noir has always been one of my biggest inspirations. When it came time for us to make a film for a final project, the idea of doing a more modern neo-noir came up. The initial idea was to do a neo-noir along the lines of a Coen brothers film, like Blood Simple.
JK: We originally wrote the script to be more modern, however, when we were rereading over it I was like, "Tim, why are we writing it like this? I have all of the props and proper apparel for within this time period!" So we went for a period piece which are stereotypically more expensive, which is one of the things that makes it so comical that it is a zero-budget film. My mom owned an antique business, was an antique dealer, and the whole family is completely obsessed with antiques. That is how we acquired free reign to the period props. We chose Film Noir over a more modern way of film because it truly seems like an untapped art form as of late. I haven't seen any classic black and white films or noirs created in quite some time, feature or short length! It is such a beautiful, fun, and inspiring artistic style that we felt we just had to try it. It was something new we hadn't tried to do yet.
What were your reactions after learning that Cannes had accepted your film?
TC: Sheer disbelief. I was fairly positive after submitting it to Cannes that nothing would come from it. Cannes is the top film festival in the world and I never thought for a second that they would accept our student film. We were in LA for a screening of our film at the Los Angeles Independent Film Festival Awards when we heard the news. It was a completely surreal experience and I will never forget that feeling of elation when we got that email. It's an amazing feeling to be included in something so special.
What was the response at Cannes? Have you been approached by any production higher-ups?
JK: We unfortunately did not have a screening time at Cannes, so only people who walked into the booths at short film corner viewed it...
TC: Their reaction was very positive. Many people, especially film people, have a soft spot for film noir. Being in the Short Film Corner, you mostly meet other short film directors and producers from all over the world. We met many other student filmmakers like ourselves and formed some good relationships over the course of the week that we were there. The only contact we had with production higher-ups was in the form of workshops and seminars that we attended. We attended a Q&A session with the actress Chloe Sevigny, a panel discussion about short films with several Sundance festival programmers, and several other similar events that were fascinating and very educational.
Tell us about your experience in France.
JK: Oh my goodness, I do not even know where to begin with France! It was absolutely beautiful, and an amazing experience. By the end of the trip we didn't want to leave, at least not yet!
TC: It was like a dream. It's the most wonderful place you could ever imagine, like filmmaker heaven. It's like having the largest film conference in the world held at a massive five-star beach resort. We got to attend many helpful workshops, panel discussions and networking events, and we saw quite a few celebrities.
JK: We got to experience so much and have so much to be thankful for in our first trip to France and the Cannes Film Festival! We got to talk to a lot of other wonderful creatives, and make connections. The food was obviously phenomenal, especially their gelato! One of the most surreal and out of this world experiences was when we got to attend the premier to Nicholas Refn's new film The Neon Demon starring Elle Fanning.
TC: We managed to get two invitations. We got to walk up the steps of the red carpet into the Palais and our seats were only two rows in front of where Refn himself and his lead actress Elle Fanning were seated during the screening. That was the biggest highlight of our trip as I am a huge fan of Refn and it was incredible to see him in person and to watch the premiere screening of his film in the same room with him at Cannes. It was a dream come true. I'm convinced that the Cannes Film Festival is the greatest place on Earth for filmmakers. We loved it so much we wished we could've stayed longer. We are already planning on what we will do differently next year if we are fortunate enough to be able to return.
I understand you documented your Cannes experience as well.
TC: We began making a self-documentary before we left for our trip where we sat down and discussed our journey with this film on camera. We discussed how and why we made the film and everything that happened leading up to Cannes. Then, when we went to Cannes we took a lot of footage on our phones, mostly of scenery, the locale, the festival, events, and things like that. We also made a couple of videos where we talked to the camera about what we were doing at the time. Now that we're back, we are going to sit down and talk on camera again about what the experience was like and what we learned. Then we are going to take all of the footage from before, during and after and edit together a little documentary/video journal. We have not begun to edit the footage yet and we still need to film our "Post-Cannes" segment.
What projects are you working on now?
TC: There is another short film that I directed and Jillian edited called Blackout that is currently in post-production. We are now in pre-production on a new dramatic short film for which we expect to begin production in the coming months. We also have several other short film concepts in the works, as well as a feature film project that we are developing. Our goal for the future is to move on to creating feature length films.
JK: There is this one idea that we have been planning and creating for quite a few months now. We are both really excited, and super passionate about it and are currently creating it in short film. However, we plan to make it into a feature as long as we can get some funding! Another project idea was actually born in the short film corner at Cannes, and yet another feature length one when we arrived home. We can't wait to get the ball rolling on these projects and hopefully get them going through a festival/contest circuit.
Editor note: a condensed version of this interview was featured in the July/August issue of Oz Magazine