A new feature film by Eric Tretbar

What can two little people do to save the world? Love each other.

Berlin Fest Audience Award Winner and Independent Spirit Award Nominee, Eric Tretbar, looks behind the headlines with FIRST PERSON PLURAL, a new Romeo and Juliet story. On Thanksgiving Day in Minneapolis, two filmmakers simultaneously purchase digital video cameras and fall in love through their lenses. Faysal is the son of a Somali Muslim imam, and Bettina, the daughter of a white Kansas Baptist preacher. During their whirlwind day together, they discover their families are mirror images as their dueling first-person POVs explore belief and family, the love of cinema and the cinema of love. (Full story synopsis below.)

FIRST PERSON PLURAL expresses hope and tolerance at a time when we need them most. With intimacy and empathy, it challenges the cartoonish images of “the infidel” with which both the West and East encourage hostilities. Within the classical frame of a Romeo and Juliet story, the film shows two families—one Christian, one Muslim—grappling with suspicion and prejudice to discover their common family conflicts of love and faith.

Rising stars Faysal Ahmed and Barkhad Abdirahman (co-starred with Tom Hanks in CAPTAIN PHILLIPS and Musa Syeed’s A STRAY) play the male lead role and his misguided younger brother. The female lead role will be cast via casting director, Liz Jereski (CSA). Director Eric Tretbar continues to depict the changing face of an increasingly international Minneapolis, building upon the intimacy and visual beauty of his previous films SNOW, THE HORRIBLE FLOWERS, and GIRL MEETS BIKE (watch film clips). With its intercultural, interfaith love story, FIRST PERSON PLURAL reminds us all that the U.S. was created from the meeting of many peoples, as our national motto “E PLURIBUS UNUM” states with stark beauty: “from many, one.”

Benefits of Donations (100% tax deductible)

Your tax-deductible donation makes possible this crucial story of our time, for our time. Through these families and the images they make of each other and themselves, the film brings viewers inside the creative process—of cinema, of belief, of love. A precise use of point of view expresses the title’s meaning:  there is no “them” or “other.”  There is only us—all of us—together.

Donations large or small are welcome. You can use a credit card by clicking the DONATE button below, or make a check payable to FilmNorth and mail it to FilmNorth, 550 Vandalia St, Suite 120, St. Paul, MN 55114. Please write “FIRST PERSON PLURAL” on the memo line. FilmNorth is Independent Filmmaker Project Minnesota, our 501(c)3 nonprofit fiscal agent that administers your donation and distributes the money as a grant to our film, minus 5% administration fee. FilmNorth will send you necessary tax-deduction paperwork. Thanks for your support!

DONATE TO “FIRST PERSON PLURAL” BY CLICKING ON THE DONATE BUTTON BELOW.

 

Project schedule

CASTING/PRE-PRODUCTION – summer/fall, 2017

PRODUCTION – fall/winter, 2017

POST-PRODUCTION – winter, 2017

 

Story Synopsis (by Eric Tretbar, wga#1808159)

FIRST PERSON PLURAL opens in a camera store, where Faysal and Bettina meet while buying new cameras for very personal reasons: Faysal (Somali, early 30s), because his father is ill and confided only in him. His father is a former Imam who was ousted from his mosque in Minneapolis’ Somali community when he allowed Faysal out of an arranged marriage, then banished Faysal for the disgrace. Faysal longs to reconcile, and is attending his mother’s dinner where he wants to film his secretly ailing father. Before he goes, he’s printing out an album of family photos for his mother and, as the most “American” of his family, cooking a turkey to contribute.

Bettina (caucasian, early 40s) is buying a camera to make a confessional video explaining her life, beliefs, and regrets to her family back in Kansas. She hasn’t spoken to them in years, and doesn’t think it’s possible. But, like Faysal, she longs for a reconciliation. That will prove difficult, since her Baptist preacher father kicked her out in high school when she outed her father’s secret gay life. Bettina is planning to make her video, then join some friends at an orphans’ Thanksgiving.

When the filmmakers meet, their painful Thanksgiving plans are pleasantly interrupted by love at first sight. They dive into a lively discussion of life, love and their personal filmmaking styles. As children of clergy, they’re interested in questions of religion and belief—both their family traditions, and their common, personal religion: cinema.

But the closer they come together, the more their families begin to intervene. Their little brothers are spying on them, angered at their worldly ways and interaction with “the enemy.” Faysal’s brother, Isma’il, considers Christians enemies of Islam. Bettina’s brother, Vernell, harbors identical persecution fantasies: that Faysal and his family are Muslim agents bent on the destruction of his whole way of life. The two brothers’ misguided commentaries are comic but threatening.

Faysal invites Bettina to dinner at his parents’ apartment, and she accepts. Little does she know her family has tracked her down with a U-Haul trailer full of their own Thanksgiving dinner. Her mother intends to reunite their family. Faysal’s mother invites Bettina’s family in, and the two families grudgingly crowd into the high-rise Section 8 apartment. Just as the two families begin to get along—the brothers with video games, fathers with their newspapers, little kids with dolls, mothers with jokes—Vernell receives a phone text and slips away from the dual family portrait Faysal and Bettina are setting up.

Vernell reappears spouting apocalyptic scripture and waving a gun. Bettina and Isma’il wrestle him for it—all the way down into the apartment courtyard where the gun goes off. The two brothers flee and Bettina returns to the apartment, calms the families, and tells Faysal to wait at her house. She’ll try to find the brothers before the police do. On the train home, Bettina discovers blood beneath her jacket–she was shot in the scuffle before.

At Bettina’s house, Faysal finishes editing the film that he and Bettina have been making of each other all day. Vernell bursts in with a knife and threatens Faysal, claiming Isma’il shot Bettina. Faysal talks him down as Isma’il bursts in with Vernell’s gun which accidentally goes off, killing Faysal. The boys flee again and Bettina enters to find Faysal dead. Now bleeding heavily, she embraces Faysal and dies. The families arrive clutching the brothers and are horrified to find their children dead. The Imam shoves Isma’il’s face toward Faysal: “Look what you did!” The preacher is ashamed: “Look what we did.” As they cover the bodies, the little children play Faysal and Bettina’s film. It begins with their meeting in the camera store, and the story ends with its own beginning, sparkling with hope and love.

Project Development

Writer-director, Eric Tretbar, met Faysal Ahmed and Barkhad Abdirahman working as 1st Assistant Director on Musa Syeed’s feature film A STRAY.  FIRST PERSON PLURAL was a story Eric had conceived while living in L.A., then wrote for a Minneapolis setting after returning to teach film at Carleton College and Minneapolis College of Art and Design.

Eric developed the script in consultation with Faysal and two other Somali-American artists who acted in A STRAY: screenwriter Ahmed Yusuf and performance artist Ifrah Mansour. Faysal and Barkhad agreed to play the story’s romantic lead and his younger brother.  Other actors from A STRAY may play additional members of the Somali family (pending availability), and actors from Eric’s previous films may return to play members of the Baptist family (pending availability).

 

Story Design, Visual Design

The film begins with one filmmaker’s 1st-person POV of the other, and vice versa. Through these images, we gain intimacy and empathy, but also lose peripheral perspective. This double-edged sword of intimacy and tunnel vision explores the abilities and limitations of cinematic representation, human cognition, and the need for love and sympathy in the face of strict moral codes.

As the story broadens from the two lovers to include their two dogmatic younger brothers, we move from 1st-person POV to an ambiguous 2nd-person POV as our two filmmakers look into their brother’s snooping lenses. Do they SEE their brothers? Or pretend not to see them? Through their brothers’ lenses, we also see the couple from a 3rd-person POV for the first time and wonder who’s looking and why?

The two brothers are spying because they think they’re performing a noble religious task of purifying their family by tattling on what they deem “unacceptable” or “ungodly” behavior. It’s their own lack of experience that enables their self-righteousness condemnation of their older brother and sister, each of whom has left their family and become an artist.

What we experience through the 1st-person images of the two lovers is tempered and transformed by the surveillance footage (and funny, misguided commentary of scriptural quotations) of the two brothers, but also by the mothers’ 3rd-person family album photos. This way, the POV images tag-team through the families, away from the couple, and back to it.

Like Shakespeare’s original, the most powerful moment of this Romeo and Juliet story is the end, when love is cut down by hatred. The story makes the explicit point that any religion can be hijacked by political movements whose grandiose rhetoric and violent methods appeal to vulnerable and impressionable teenagers. But the families’ horror at their children’s deaths push them toward hope. Visually, the film ends as it began: with Faysal and Bettina and their first spark of love. By repeating the beginning amidst the tragic ending, the film expresses the possibility that this story might begin again and go a different way, a better way.  

 

ERIC TRETBAR (Writer, Director, Producer)

Eric Tretbar has written, produced and directed seven feature films that have screened on NBC, The Sundance Channel, German TV, at The Walker Art Center, and played at over 30 festivals around the world, including Berlin, Toronto, Los Angeles (LAIFF), Sao Paulo, Hong Kong, Vienna, Melbourne, London, Seattle, Minneapolis and Orlando. Tretbar won the Berlin Film Festival (Forum) Audience Award, an Independent Spirit Award Nomination, Filmthreat’s Best of 2003, and a Best Documentary Teddy Award. Tretbar’s challenging films stretch the boundaries of Cinema, exploring the relationships between men and women, the individual and society, family duty, women’s rights, and the interaction between faith and politics

FAYSAL AHMED (actor, lead role “Faysal”)

When Hollywood was casting four pirates for the Tom Hanks movie, CAPTAIN PHILLIPS, they came to Minneapolis’ Somali community where Faysal and three friends were discovered and cast. Since CAPTAIN PHILLIPS, Faysal has acted in other films, including the award-winning A STRAY, an independent feature film directed by Musa Syeed, shot last fall in Minneapolis’ Somali community. He teamed up again with Barkhad in a German production shot this summer in Kenya. FIRST PERSON PLURAL will be Faysal’s first romantic lead role.

BARKHAD ABDIRAHMAN (actor, supporting role “Isma’il”)

Barkhad played the youngest lead pirate in CAPTAIN PHILLIPS. He recently starred in the Minneapolis-shot independent film, A STRAY. A STRAY is currently on the festival circuit garnering strong national press (reviews) and distribution offers. It won the “Best MN-MADE FILM” at the 2016 Minneapolis/St. Paul International Film Festival, and much critical praise from The New York Times, Variety, The Hollywood Reporter, The Village Voice, and The Star Tribune. Barkhad teams up with Faysal once again to play the complex role of Faysal’s younger brother.

JOHN STOUT, Fredrikson & Byron (Legal)

A partner at Fredrikson and Byron, John is one of the founders of the Minnesota film industry. He was Co-Executive Producer for the Prairie Home Companion feature film, raising a portion of its budget. John also advises film producers in financing, production and distribution of Minnesota feature film projects, including Eric Tretbar’s SNOW (1998), THE HORRIBLE FLOWERS (2006), and other local films, including BILL’S GUN SHOP. In other legal work, John represents family-owned, closely-held and publicly-owned businesses in governance, sustainability (ESG) and social responsibility (CSR), financial and international business matters. John and Eric are Carleton College alumni, and John recently served as a Carleton College trustee.

MICHAEL SEAN O’NEIL (FIRST PERSON – Chief Financial Officer)

Michael Sean O’Neil, an 18-year IT professional, has guided many multimillion-dollar projects from inception to successful completion over his long career working for Optum Technologies. Negotiating eight figure contracts and building winning teams from the ground up, O’Neil was on the vanguard of the team of Optum technology experts that came to the rescue of healthcare.gov in 2013. In 2012, O’Neil successfully launched Rapid eCrop, his own startup Pharmacy Business Process Management Company in Côte d’Ivoire, West Africa. O’Neil’s deep appreciation of the arts spans many theater, musical and public speaking experiences ranging from touring Europe with the LaCrosse Boy Choir to competing at the state level in Storytelling in high school.

 

Filmography – Eric Tretbar

CHILDREN OF GOD(ard) (© 2016 Winter Light Films, 8:00, 24pHD b/w, comedy)

written and directed by Eric Tretbar
work in progress

GIRL MEETS BIKE (© 2013 Moto Girl Films, 95:00, 24pHD color, drama)

written and directed by Eric Tretbar

2015 Cinema Sobre Dues Rodes Film Festival, Barcelona, Spain
2014 Motomania Fest, Warsaw, Poland
2014 Sekrit Theater Screening, Austin, TX
2013 NY Motorcycle Film Festival, Brooklyn, NY (competition)
2013 Minneapolis / St. {Paul International Film Festival
2013 Duluth Superior Film Festival, Duluth, MN (competition)

MOTO 73 MAGAZINE, Netherlands: “Top Three Motorcycle Films 1983-2014”
(Fanta Voogd, 2014)

MOTOMANIA MAGAZINE, Poland: “I am so moved by Kat’s story…it is also a story about me and my life, finding my way toward freedom on the back of a steel horse.” (Monika Pacyfka, August 2013)

CAFE RACER MAGAZINE, USA: “The stunning camerawork and moody soundtrack make this film a treat.” (Kim Love, 2013)

YOUMOTORCYCLE, USA: “Visually orgasmic…it captures a passion for riding and a zest for living life…Girl Meets bike was absolutely stunning.” (Adrian B., 11.19.13)

AMERICANS (© 2011 Winter Light Films, 95:00, 24pHD color, documentary)

written and directed by Eric Tretbar

INQ409 (© 2008 Winter Light Films, 90:00, 24pSD color, drama)

written and directed by Eric Tretbar

2008 Walker Art Center UNCONVENTION TV Series, aired during
Republican National Convention

THE HORRIBLE FLOWERS (© 2006 Flowers Films, 83:00, 24pSD color, drama)

written and directed by Eric Tretbar

2006 Sao Paulo Film Festival Premiere, Sao Paulo, BRAZIL
2006 Guardian Hay Festival, Hay-on-Wye, Wales, UK
2007 Tucson Music Film Festival, Tucson, AZ
2007 Sound Unseen Film Festival, Minneapolis, MN

FILM THREAT said “Bettina is a memorable and harrowing creation, and Cline plays the role with a force of personality that would easily oil up the Oscar-talk machine had this been a studio production.” (Phil Hall, 5.2.07)

ONEWORD RADIO UK: “THE HORRIBLE FLOWERS is proof positive that Tretbar has now very firmly arrived. This is a fine piece of work for its writing, direction, and utterly captivating performances.” (Paul Blezard, 6.25.06

GIGI 12×5 (© 2005 Mod Explosion, 95:00, 24pSD color, romantic comedy)

written and directed by Eric Tretbar

2005 Opening Nights Film Fest (competition), Athens, Greece

ZENITH (© 2003 Prairie Fire Films, 54:00, 24pSD color, documentary)

written and directed by Kirsten Tretbar
co-produced by Eric Tretbar

2003 USA Film Festival debut, Dallas, TX
2003 Central Standard Film Festival, Minneapolis, MN
2003 NBC broadcast
2003 Filmthreat’s Best of 2003

SNOW (© 1998 Winter Light Films, 82:00, 16mm b/w, drama)

written and directed by Eric Tretbar

1999 Indie Spirit Award Nomination (Someone to Watch Award)
1999 Northwest Airlines Independents in Flight
1999 Sundance Channel Premiere
1999 Florida Film Festival (competition)
1998 Los Angeles Independent Film Festival (debut)
1998 Minneapolis-St.Paul International Film Festival

VARIETY called Tretbar “a unique voice in the wilderness,” and SNOW “…an engaging tale of aimless youth…a subtly observed piece…” with “…a quiet compelling authority…and echoes of Casavettes’ SHADOWS.” (Len Klady, 4.17.98)

The LA TIMES said SNOW “has a skittish grace and genuine poignancy. It’s a contemporary variant on BRIEF ENCOUNTER…” (Kevin Thomas, 4.16.98)

CAHIERS DU CINEMA: “…photographed in intimate, sensual black and white…its presence at Toronto is one of the raisons d’etre of the festival.” (Berenice Reyaud, Cahiers no.529, 10.98)

THE USUAL (© 1992 Periferia Films, 82:00, 16mm b/w, drama)

written and directed by Eric Tretbar

1992 Berlin International Film Festival (Forum)
1992 Audience Award (Berlin Film Festival)
1992 Hong Kong Film Festival
1992 Toronto International Film Festival
1992 Viennale, Vienna, Austria
1992 Warsaw International Film Fest
1992 London Film Festival
1992 Minneapolis St.Paul International Film Fest
1992 American Film Institute Film Fest
1992 Walker Art Center “Into the 90s” Series
1992 Seattle International Film Fest
1992 Melbourne International Film Fest

VARIETY: “An impressive first feature by Minneapolis-based Eric Tretbar…THE USUAL delivers much more than its title…announces a promising addition to the ranks of U.S. indie filmmakers.”(Derek Elley, 2.21.92)

DER TAGESSPIEGEL, Germany: “With the charming casualness of his narrative form…the American director creates a little cinema jewel.” (J.M., 2.18.92)

MELBOURNE FILM FESTIVAL: “The film, like its characters, has a quirky and thoroughly innocent charm, and a freewheeling structure that is well and truly liberated from the straight-jackets of conventional narrative cinema.” (Paul Kalina)