Posted: 11/26/2003


The Cliffhanger


by Gary Schultz

Eleven Chicago filmmakers team up for The Cliffhanger.

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A not-for-profit production company called Split Pillow Productions has just premiered their first feature film The Cliffhanger in Chicago on November 17, 2003. I went to the premiere to see the film. The night sold a solid turnout in a nearly full theatre. The Cliffhanger is not like most traditional films. The Cliffhanger is motion picture collaboration between eleven different Chicago filmmakers and eighteen actors. This movie was shot on digital video in a sort of improv style of filmmaking in that each team of filmmakers had a week to watch the previous filmmaker’s contribution to the movie and then add his own chapter. So for example the first team started out and they had one week to write and shoot a five to ten minute opening chapter to the movie. They could shoot anything they wanted, no limitations on content or style. They utilized the actors that were assigned to the project and at the end of the week they passed a rough cut onto the next team who would watch it and write the next chapter. Its style is like that of Chinese Telephone filmmaking on digital video. There are eleven chapters shot over eleven weekends.

The Cliffhanger is the essence of independent filmmaking. It represents almost everything that indie films are about, mostly the freedom to make choices in your film without the pressure of a studio pulling the strings. And instead of seeing one director/writer’s point of view on how to handle a certain group of characters you get to see eleven different takes on those characters and storylines. This film stars real Chicago actors working for peanuts because they want to make independent films. Damn straight. The Cliffhanger follows several characters that are all connected in some way to this videotape, which has some very disturbing footage on it that could get a lot of people in trouble. As these characters most of the time unknowingly affect each other’s lives, each of their situations grows worse and becomes more intense. The tape reveals one character’s dark past of sexual abuse and causes two brothers to turn against each other over protecting the privacy of the people who have exposed the tape.

The Cliffhanger opens strong with a great opening scene, fight sequence, sexual assault and an ass stabbing. This is fun, intense stuff. However, I felt that certain chapters dragged and I will make a criticism — where The Cliffhanger struggles is that it’s process almost become it’s enemy. Seeing as how the film is improv, certain chapters are stronger than others and certain story lines are not played out to their fullest. Although the main characters plots are played through and come to an end. I am left but wondering about certain characters fates. The lack of clarity in certain scenes and the way some B characters are brought in and out of certain chapters can be confusing at times. I would recommend The Cliffhanger to people that are open for a new experience in digital filmmaking approach and story telling.

So here’s what we’ve learned so far — don’t trust anyone. I mean anyone. Stay away from creepy uncles, next-door neighbor’s and messed up abusive father figures with video cameras. If a man offers you a hundred bucks for sex and you’re not a prostitute, don’t joke around and agree to three hundred for services. You just might get it. Oh and if you want to support independent Chicago filmmakers, then go see films like this.

Gary Schultz is an indie filmmaker from Chicago. Did you guess it?

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