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I.H: Into the Fire

Indie Highlite takes an in-depth look at to-be-released independently made feature films – some find distribution via specialty arms of major studios, mini-majors, indie-labels and self-distributed or sometimes no distribution at all.

This week features: Michael Phelan’s Into the Fire

Into the Fire is a story of hope and despair set in a place where human connection seems impossible. In the modern day New York, there are scattered pieces of families all over – a woman who lost her sister, a woman who lost her son and husband, a child who lost her father and mother, a man who lost his sister and mother, and this film tells the story of how three people find ways to put together a makeshift family. These characters live with death looming, either in their past haunting them forever or right around the corner in the immediate future. These characters are in desperate times wanting to talk to someone, wanting to share ideas and emotions, wanting to have the feelings of family and love again, but are sometimes afraid of making a connection with a stranger: whether it be someone they meet through work or someone in need of help on the side of the street. When the opportunity comes to connect each character reacts differently. This film is about that courage one must find within to have faith in someone else again after years of loneliness. That is the hope that Into the Fire wants to give back to us through the medium of film.

Walter Hartwig (Sean Patrick Flannery) is a New York City Harbor Patrol cop with no family left but a heavily medicated father in a nursing home. After retrieving the body of a drowned woman something changes inside him. He calls her “the most beautiful thing he has ever seen”. He feels a connection with her living sister, Catrina Hampton (Meklina Kanakredes), who is painfully grieving. On his way home from the whole ordeal he also encounters an older woman, June Sickles (JoBeth Williams), who is found passed out on the sidewalk. June has lost her son on 9/11 and now takes care of his daughter. June sees in Walter some qualities of her son and her grandchild needs a father figure. All these characters need each other for reasons that aren’t so obvious, even to themselves, but with patience relationships can surely develop and they do. These are emotionally unstable individuals still suffering losses that forever changed them. It takes time to heal these wounds. Though they misunderstand each other sometimes, when the tears fall they find comfort in the arms of a stranger who can now be called a friend.

With nature inspired photography by cinematographer Christopher Norr, we see New York again: Coney Island, Red Hook, Brooklyn, Central Park in all its glory. And we definitely have never seen a depiction of The New York Harbor Patrol like this. The Harbor Patrol began in 1858 to stop piracy of the incoming Merchant ships and in with this film we see some of the work that these men encounter today, but more than that – we see the emotions they have when a day’s work is over. While this is a story that could have taken place anywhere, it tries its hardest to be a New York film, yet not wanting to be as labeled one. What we get here is almost a facade of the big apple written and directed by a native New Yorker. Take that anyway you wish. Amongst the backdrop, there is an element of reality underneath it all and it definitely shines through as the heart of the film.

There are scenes when the dialogue doesn’t seem to flow right and then a sudden change of emotion has us confused. It just doesn’t feel right, a mistake, maybe someone isn’t completely in charge of his craft, but then if you think about it these characters themselves are uneasy, they have shifting emotions, they are uncomfortable, confused. The scene then takes on a new light as does the whole film. This definitely comes from a man who loves his film and is inspired by hope – something which is felt in each frame of this film. Some of the experiences of a first time filmmaker can be read on writer/director Michael Phelan’s official site for the film.

Into the Fire gets a New York release @ the Landmark’s Sunshine Cinema on September 23rd.

For more information visit the official site.

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Justin Ambrosino received his MFA from the American Film Institute where he was awarded the prestigious Patricia Hitchcock O'Connell Scholarship. His short, ‘The 8th Samurai', a re-imagining of the making of Akira Kurosawa's Seven Samurai, won more than 20 jury awards worldwide and qualified for the Academy Awards Short Film category in 2010. Ambrosino began as an assistant on major feature films including 'The Departed', 'Lord of War' and 'The Producers'. He also staged a series of one-act plays throughout New York. He has been a Sapporo Artist-in-Residence, a Kyoto Filmmaker Lab Fellow as well as a shadow director on 'Law & Order: SVU'. Ambrosino is working on his feature film debut "Hungry for Love". Top Films From Contemporary Film Auteurs: Bong-Joon Ho (Memories of Murder), Lina Wertmuller (All Screwed Up), Ryan Coggler (Black Panther), Yoji Yamada (Kabei) and Antonio Capuano (Pianese Nunzio...)

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