Two Trubie Sisters Hit the Free Ride World Premiere at the Hamptons International Film Festival, October 11th 2013.
Heading to the Hamptons
Each year in mid-October, film buffs from near and far descend upon the famed East End of Long Island for the Hamptons International Film Festival (HIFF), and this year was the first that we were amongst them.
Ask most people what comes to mind when one mentions the Hamptons, they’ll likely say, “Sand! Surf! Sun drenched summer beaches! Celebrities! Swanky parties! Alliteration! (OK, that one was me)”. It’s that for us, too―but it’s also something a bit different. You see, we have lived on Long Island for most of our lives, so this glittering stretch from Southampton to Amagansett is for us part the playground of the stars that it is in the popular imagination, and part the quaint, mostly unchanging collection of villages and hamlets we watched fly by from the back seat on countless family trips to Montauk when we were kids. So, because we’re local-ish the Hamptons feel familiar but also a bit like rarefied space to us. For that reason, even though we live only an hour or so away, we’ve really never spent any time there as adults―that is, until Free Ride starring Anna Paquin and produced by CASM Films, the company she founded with Stephen Moyer made its way onto the HIFF slate of programming and gave us a reason to head East!
As soon as we found out Free Ride would have its World Premiere not at the Fort Lauderdale International Film Festival but at the HIFF on October 11th right in our own backyard, we scooped up our tickets. Knowing that it would take some time for us to drive from up-Island, as the region west of Riverhead is (sometimes affectionately, sometimes derisively) known, to the UA East Hampton Cinema where Free Ride would screen at 9:15PM and that we wanted to get there in time for the red carpet arrivals, we hit the road early. Our heart rates kicked up a bit with nervous excitement and anticipation as we came around the bend on Route 27, the main artery into the Hamptons, and rolled past the gracious white and green awninged porch of The Maidstone, the HIFF’s charming headquarters.
Driving by Guild Hall and past a sea of people on the street wearing laminates, we knew we had entered ground zero of the festival for real. We parked on a lovely tree lined street a few blocks from the theater at about 7PM and were eager to get to the venue and scope the scene. However, first things first. Remember when the character Cher from the 90’s teen movie Clueless, said “I don’t rely on mirrors so I always take Polaroid’s.”? In this spirit, we took a selfie in the car to make sure we were ready not just to see, but also to be seen, and then we hit the sidewalk.
(Rebecca left, Rachel right)
We picked up our tickets at will call and had some time to spare, so we asked around as to where we could go to get a drink. We were told Rowdy Hall, a pub-style restaurant and bar associated with the festival, had amazing mussels and margaritas (the later being what we were really interested in), so we walked down Main Street about five storefronts to order up some liquid courage in the event of a chance meeting with any HIFF VIPs.
(our tickets for Free Ride)
(a margarita for Rebecca and cabernet sauvignon for Rachel)
The forecast had called for rain, but instead, it was a lovely fall evening and we were able to sit outside in Rowdy Hall’s courtyard right off Main Street to soak up the festival ambiance as we sipped our drinks.
(Rachel on park bench outside Rowdy Hall)
Lights, Camera, Action!
At about 8:45 we realized it was “go time” and that we had better get back to the theater. As we walked up Main Street we noticed that a line had started to form, and flashbulbs were popping.
(line outside theater for Free Ride)
We jumped onto the ticket holder line posthaste, but we couldn’t stand still. Irresistible curiosity motivated us to investigate the red carpet, so one at a time so we wouldn’t lose our place, we peeled off the line to check it out.
Leaping over a planter to exit the line, Rebecca was first to make her way towards the lightning storm of camera flashes, and as she made her way back the expression on her face made it plain to see that “it was all happening”. Upon her return she calmly informed me that none other than Stephen Moyer was on the red carpet, so with some effort, I arose from the wrought iron tree railing I was sitting on since my feet were killing me in my heels, and shakily proceeded, camera in hand, to the side of the theater.
Approaching the red carpet, I rather awkwardly tapped into my inner paparazzi, pointing the camera in the general direction of the HIFF backdrop and snapping away. I felt weird standing there alongside the more official-looking photographers, and, honestly, a bit uncomfortable and self conscious actually taking the pictures, so I assumed that whatever shots I had been able to get would be unusable. However, when I rejoined Rebecca on the ticket holder’s line and we took a look at the camera, it turned out that I had actually gotten a few decent pics.
(five shots of Stephen Moyer on HIFF red carpet for Free Ride)
Let The Show Begin!
At this point the line had started moving so we had to queue up again to enter the building. Once inside, we immediately deployed “Plan A”, which was based upon our experiences at the Tribeca Film Festival: if one wants to be close to the after-film panel discussion that may very well take place tonight, one ought to sit as close as possible to the screen.
Once comfortably ensconced in our fifth row seats, Rebecca strategically left the theater to “go to the ladies” (AKA, conduct recon). Within minutes I grew impatient and rendezvoused with her in the restroom, at which point she disclosed that she had seen seat markers in the rear of the house for festival guests. We decided it was time to play musical chairs and as we reentered the theater, there we saw Stephen Moyer in the aisle near the seats marked, “special guests”. Without a second thought, Rebecca turned to a woman in the row directly behind his row, and boldly asked, “are these seats taken?”, to which she answered “no”, so Plan B was officially in effect as we found a new home amongst the festival guests and film makers. I went down to retrieve the coat I had left in row five, and upon returning we took our seats in the row directly behind Mr. Moyer who was sitting one row in front, to the far right against the wall. He was noshing on popcorn he said had been given to him by a theater employee as a birthday gift and chatting with friends and fellow producers.
We felt like we should say something or at least attempt to introduce ourselves, but not being the types to interrupt conversations already in progress, we didn’t. When the house lights started to dim, our hearts both sank a bit. We were feeling like we had missed our chance, but we whispered our agreement that we would seize the moment when the lights came back up (hey, he would have to walk right past us to get out of the theater anyway, right?) and we settled down to enjoy the film, five and six seats, respectively, away from where Mr. Moyer was seated, donning black framed glasses.
Our vantage point was interesting and definitely had its perks in terms of our being able to observe some of his idiosyncratic reactions; for instance, at a point in the film that didn’t seem particularly comedic, Stephen burst out laughing quite audibly. We looked at each other and laughed too, although not quite out loud, assuming that something about that scene must have been somewhat of an inside joke to him.
About the Film
Free Ride takes an honest, intimate, and at times intensely emotional look at what happens when a family with few options tries for a better life but gets sucked into a criminal underworld. Anna Paquin gave a completely un-Sookie performance as a single mother fleeing domestic violence and trying to start anew with her two daughters; also featured in the film is True Blood alum Brit Morgan who, on the other hand, essentially reprised her role as Debbie Pelt in her portrayal of a woman deep into the drug scene and on a downward spiral.
Set in the 1970s and also starring Drea Di Matteo (HBO’s The Sopranos) and Cam Gigandet (Burlesque, Priest with Stephen Moyer), Free Ride is based on the life experiences of writer-director Shana Betz, who as a child relocated from Ohio to Florida with her mother (the character Christina, played by Anna) and older sister. Starting out cleaning houses and moving quickly onto drug running, Christina gets involved with a fast crowd and ends up making less-than-ideal life choices that lead to her eventual arrest―but she is above all else a survivor, and it is obvious that her every move flows from her strong drive to provide for her daughters in a world where her opportunities are limited. It’s a story of the pursuit of the American Dream gone sideways that ends in love, hope, and redemption.
We were given scoring ballots for the film and rated it as excellent.
(one of our ballots torn through at the “excellent” rating)
That’s All Folks…Not Quite!
The Panel Discussion & Our Conversation with Stephen Moyer
As the lights came back up and patrons (including former NYC Mayor Rudy Giuliani) began their march up the aisle and out of the theater, Stephen too made an abrupt exit. We reacted poorly. Fearing the worst―that we had let ourselves, and The Vault readers down because we had blown our chance to speak to him―our fading spirits were almost instantly revived when we saw him reemerge from the shadows to stand right off to the side of where we were sitting.
The Tangerine Entertainment Juice Award is a prize honoring an outstanding female film maker, and this year’s inaugural award went to Free Ride. This was announced right before the panel discussion about the film commenced and Stephen was called down to take part in it. Also participating were writer-director Shana Betz, actress Liana Liberato (M.J, Christina’s older daughter), and co-producer Mark Larkin.
Free Ride is Ms. Betz’s directorial debut, and she said she was motivated to write the film because society holds a certain (negative, demonized, and above all, monolithic and one-dimensional) image of the “drug dealer” and she wanted the character of Christina to provide a humanizing counterbalance. She talked about how the marijuana trade was different, more innocent, at the time, and how it held open space for her family to move beyond the poverty and lack of opportunity they had known. She spoke of how she wrote this film as a love letter for her older sister who became a de facto mother of sorts during their mom’s descent, and how she feels it is important for women’s stories to be told, through a feminine voice.
Stephen explained how he had gotten involved with the project; he had read the script and was to be cast as the character of “boss man”, but instead decided to put Anna forward to read for the female lead. Ms. Betz shared that he had contacted her to ask whether “his Anna” had seen the script yet and Stephen demurred at her sharing his use of this term of endearment. Since they didn’t want to “bombard the audience” with them on screen together, and he felt that Anna could give the kind of powerful lead performance the film deserved, he took on a producer role instead with his and Anna’s production company and Free Ride became the first film to be produced by CASM.
After a bit more discussion, the moderator opened the floor up to the audience. My hand shot up immediately, and I was called on first; “you all the way in the back…”. I stood and said that I hoped everyone could hear me, and that I would be able to compose myself because I had become quite emotional during the final scene, but that I wanted to thank the crew for offering this story. I shared that as a social worker, I had a sense even before seeing the film, with its harrowing opening scene depicting Christina and her abuser locked in violent physical battle, that the protagonist would be fleeing domestic violence, and that it is so important to show women―like Christina, and like the women who I work with that have been pushed to the fringes of society―not as pariahs but as fully realized, fleshed out, multidimensional human beings who are trying simply to live against the odds.
After speaking, I sat back down and the panel answered a few audience questions. Due to the late hour (it was about 11:30PM) the event had to start wrapping up, and as the theater emptied, we remembered that we had to reclaim the umbrella we had left in row five. Oh darn (snaps fingers), we would have to get closer to where the panelists were still standing and chatting! So we descended the aisle against the grain of exiting filmgoers, and made our way to the foot of the theater.
As we stood there working up the nerve to introduce ourselves to Stephen, Rebecca overheard him ask a festival coordinator, “so is there a party?” and we thought it was absolutely adorable that he didn’t know what the after plans were. The festival worker replied that there was an after party for another film happening at a fabulous Greek Revival-style mansion at 16 Acorn (wherever that is), to which Stephen replied, “is there a password?”. Again, adorable. He was told, “for you, no password required” and that the party would be offering tacos and margaritas.
No, we did not stalk the party. We know our boundaries, and we kept it classy.
Here’s what we DID do. As Stephen turned to exit the theater, Rebecca stepped partly into the aisle, and by way of introduction led with, “Excuse me, Mr. Moyer, we have been asked to say hello from Lynn from The Vault because we’re covering this event for the site”.
Immediately, a smile of recognition spread across his face, and he stopped, shook both our hands, and so very unnecessarily introduced himself, “hi, I’m Steve”.
This led to quite a sustained, in-depth conversation. I told him I had been the person who had stood and spoken from the back during the panel discussion, and as we spoke about the importance of the feminine voice in cinema, the need for stories like Free Ride to be told, and some of Stephen’s philanthropic work that overlaps with my own such as his involvement with men and women who have been incarcerated, his co-producer at CASM Mark Larkin drifted over. Stephen introduced us to Mr. Larkin, and we all stood in a circle talking at the foot of the theater until the four of us were herded out by an employee who, looking at her watch, uttered somewhat tiredly, “I’m sorry folks, but it’s time to go…”.
As we headed up the aisle and out of the theater, Stephen asked us where we were from and we told him we were locals of sorts; we also took the chance to tell him that Anna’s performance was phenomenal and we asked him to please convey that to her on our behalf.
We made our way out to the lobby, where our conversation continued. Since others were wishing him a happy birthday, we thought it wouldn’t be inappropriate for us to do so as well, so we did. Stephen then stepped away for a moment to greet the employee who had gifted him with his popcorn, a very enthusiastic True Blood fan.
Since Stephen had just posed for a photo with the concession employee, Rebecca decided this would be an opportune moment to ask for what we thought would be a quick photo for The Vault, but what actually turned into a mini photo shoot, with Mr. Larkin serving as photographer and art director. At one point in the drawn-out process of posing, Stephen remarked that he never should have let his co-producer take charge of the camera, since he’s an artist. Determined to stage the perfect picture and unhappy with the lighting where the three of us had originally stood, Stephen’s directorial side emerged and he set to very gallantly moving the lobby’s velvet ropes out of the way for us. We re-positioned ourselves following his lead, and Mr. Larkin snapped this shot:
After posing for the photo our conversation continued further still, switching gears to True Blood. We shared that we watch the show from a feminist, socio-cultural standpoint and that we’ve been on the phone with each other at two o’clock in the morning many a time over the years after the show airs on Sunday nights, talking about how it comments on our wider culture, and how the show not only holds a mirror up to the culture but also influences it. He agreed that in his opinion, the show is best when it is grounded in and commenting on reality, and then talked a bit about how True Blood has laid the groundwork for the success of shows like American Horror Story, and the new series that will debut this October as a re-imagining of the classic novel Dracula. We wished him the best with the Free Ride screening at the Fort Lauderdale International Film Festival the next week, and with Season 7 of True Blood. We intimated that we will be quite bereft when the show is over and he echoed our sentiments, sharing that he too will be bereft when True Blood ends, joking that we’ll have to get together and be bereft together.
On that note, the whole group exited the theater. Standing just outside the lobby entrance was the statuesque writer-director Shana Betz, who spotted Rebecca’s flower that she was wearing in her hair, walked over to us, and cupped the flower in her hand, and exclaimed, “look at you with your flower, so beautiful”. She then turned to me, and said, “you, you’re the social worker, aren’t you, get over here!”. She hugged me, and we engaged in a brief conversation about the film and its impact. She shared her impressions that it’s not so much that audiences aren’t interested in stories like Free Ride that center on poor, single mothers, but that Hollywood studios and funders aren’t always interested in participating in getting these stories told. We shared that we hope Free Ride’s success will help that start to change, said goodnight, and wished everyone well. We experienced Mr. Moyer, Mr. Larkin, and Ms. Betz as warm and genuine people who, despite what had undoubtedly been a very long day for them representing Free Ride, were incredibly generous with their time, and after an amazing evening at the HIFF, we made our way back to the car.
So, remember that Semisonic song, “Closing Time” with the lyrics that go, “you don’t have to go home, but you can’t stay here”? Well, those lyrics certainly ended up ringing true for us that night, but as for what happened next, that’s another story…
Submitted by: Rachel Seiler & Rebecca Fox
Rebecca Fox and Rachel Seiler are sisters who can be found summer Sundays at 9 o'clock doused in the glow of the latest True Blood episode as it flickers across their TV screens and an hour later lit up in discussion about the show's sociocultural impact. Rebecca is a restaurant professional who would have Arlene quaking in her non-slip shoes if she worked at Merlotte’s, and Rachel is a social worker and "baby" sociology professor.