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  • Jared Huizenga

TCFF Spotlight: Lady Lillian

Over the course of 11 days, October 18-28, film fans and filmmakers from across the country will descend upon the ShowPlace ICON Theatre at the Shops at West End in St. Louis Park for the 2017 Twin Cities Film Fest.

More than 120 films – including features, shorts, animation and documentaries – will screen over the course of the festival. In addition, a large number of directors, producers, and actors will walk the red carpet, present their films, attend the mixers and chat with fans about their work.

Over the course of TCFF 2017, we’ll be chatting with some of those filmmakers and stars to find out more about what they’re bringing to the TCFF screens.


Film: Lady Lillian – Roach, 10,000 Laughs (Comedy Shorts Block)

Showtimes: 3 p.m., Thursday, Oct. 19 and 5:45 p.m., Wednesday, Oct. 25



One of the things I enjoy most about TCFF is the people I've been able to meet. One of those people is Amber Johnson. For several years Amber and I would chat between screenings – her making sure everything ran smooth in the theater, and me sitting there waiting for her to make sure everything ran smoothly. And then all of a sudden she was gone. Well, she's back this year, but this time as a filmmaker, with her comedy short “Lady Lillian.”

Q: Tell us about “Lady Lillian.”

“Lady Lillian” is a short dark comedy film about a fortune teller and a guy named Tim.

Tim comes to Lady Lillian because he’s having trouble with his relationship and at work. He’s never had a tarot card reading before, and is kind of nervous and buttoned-up.

His reading quickly starts to go downhill, amplifying Tim’s anxiety. The reading devolves into non-sequiturs about distracted driving and fruit-on-the-bottom yogurt that leave Tim rattled as he leaves to meet his fate.

Most of the film was shot in our cinematographer’s parents’ garage that we built a fortune teller studio set in with the amazing production design talent of Cheri Anderson.

The actors, Clarence Wethern, Lauren Anderson and Debra Berger, are some of Minneapolis’ best both on stage and screen, it was truly an honor to and a delight to get to work with them.

Laura Buchholz, our writer, is a kick ass … er really great comedy and sketch writer and it was a total blast to get to work with her and the script.

Our crew was top notch: Nick Hillyard, our cinematographer and colorist, is no stranger to the festival circuit and is easily one of the best in town. Cassie Wentlandt, is an amazing editor and collaborator. Our composer, Stephen Letnes, absolutely rocked the music and the begrudgingly but wonderfully made muzak. Sound recording by the ever wonderful and professional, Owen Brafford. Production assistance from Sarah Storbakken-Fehr and make-up artistry from Paige Fetter.

I honestly, could not have asked for a better team of people to work on this with.


Clarence Wethern as Tim in “Lady Lillian.”


Q: Where has the film screened and what has the audience reaction been like so far?

  • Z-Fest Film Festival (Best Picture, Best Comedy, Best Production Design)

  • South Dakota Film Festival (Award for Excellence in Filmmaking)

  • Gallup Film Festival (Best Short Comedy)

  • Intrrobang Film Festival

  • Westercon 70 Film Festival

  • Duluth Superior Film Festival

  • Atlanta Underground Film Festival

  • Shawnee Shorts Midwestern Film Festival

  • Fayetteville Film Festival

  • Sydney Indie Film Festival (Semi-Finalist - Best Short Comedy)

  • Comedy Shorts Film Festival

  • Ironstar International Short Film Festival (Finalist - Best Short Comedy)

To Screen at:

  • Twin Cities Film Fest

  • Rockport Film Festival

  • New Haven Film Festival

  • Bath Film Festival

The film has been received very well. The great thing about making a comedy is that you can actually hear how well your film is doing with an audience by how much they laugh. Every screening I’ve attended has had non-stop laughs from the audience. So, I think we can take that as a success.

Q: What was the inspiration for the film?

I decided to make a film for the local filmmaking competition, Z-Fest, to kind of get back in the saddle of directing again. I had been playing more supportive roles for the last few years and decided it was time to take everything that I have learned and step back up to the plate. I should note here that I not only wanted to play, I wanted to win. I was pissed off and wanted to prove that women have just as much of a place in charge as men do, and be successful as leaders at that.

Nick Hillyard, my cinematographer and key collaborator, suggested that we see what we could do with 2 characters and 1 location. I rarely back down from a challenge so I started letting my options roll around in my head. I drive through uptown Minneapolis every day on the way to and from work. Driving home one day, the neon sign of a fortune teller’s shop caught my eye.

THAT’S IT! Interesting location (check) lots of room for hilarity (check).

So, I looked up the best comedy writer I know, who also happens to know her way around a deck of tarot cards, and asked her to write something for me. Laura wrote a script that had us laughing all the way through the process and even though it expanded slightly from our 1 location, 2 actors, we kept the work precise and focused on the talent and the story and rocked out the production over the course of a few days.

Laura wrote the part of Lady Lillian specifically for Lauren Anderson who is a talent I’ve wanted to work with for a long time. I’ve been lucky enough to work with Clarence Wethern before and he was easily my first choice for Tim, so I was elated when he was willing and able to work with me again on this project.

I cast the amazing, Debra Berger, for the cashier roll. Admittedly, a total under utilization of her skills, but her single shot in the film garnered a Best Supporting Actress nomination at Z-Fest. So, needless to say, she rocked it.

I put together a crew of some of the best, who I could continue to gush over but I will spare you.

So, we made the film. It won Best Picture at Z-Fest as well as Best Comedy and Best Production Design and I realized just how much an angry woman can accomplish with the right people by her side.


Amber Johnson and Lauren Anderson on the set of “Lady Lillian.”


Q: Your experience with TCFF is likely quite different than 99% of the other filmmakers. Tell us a little bit about that, and what it’s like to be on the “other” side of things now.

Over the past 4 years I have had the pleasure of being involved in TCFF as a staff member overseeing video production and playback. In 2016 I officially stepped down from those roles, with the help of some really great replacements to focus on making films.

I realized that maybe setting an example as a successful female filmmaker would have more of a positive impact on the community instead of playing supportive role to the success of others. “Lady Lillian” is actually the first project in that new direction and it has been even more successful than I could have dreamed.

It’s definitely fun to be on this side, but I admit that I am very careful to get my materials to the festival on time and be an easy filmmaker to work with because I know first-hand the amount of work the festival staff has to accomplish.

So far, the experience has been like coming back home to family. The TCFF staff has always been so supportive and we’ve become so close that it’s truly a delight to celebrate this film and the festival with them.

Q: If someone is only going to see one or two films at the Twin Cities Film Fest, why should they focus on “Lady Lillian” and this block of shorts?

It’s very unique for what it is. A lot of short comedy films I see are either relationship or bro humor, which earn their laughs but have a long history or archetypes and traditions to lean on. “Lady Lillian” is a dark comedy that is as much human as it is absurd. The cast are hilarious and extremely talented, they alone are a delight to watch. It’s visually stunning without being mastubatory and distracting from the story and the talent. It’s a great film and the festivals agree: the film has won numerous awards and continues to be accepted in festivals all over the world.

You, dear viewer, are in for a fun and wild ride with this little film, I promise you that.

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