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Interview with Mora Stephens

Mora’s Stephens' debut feature film, Conventioneers, won the 2006 Independent Spirit Awards' John Cassavetes Award for Best Feature (Made for Under $500,000) as well as the Grand Jury Prize at the 2006 Florida Film Festival. Following rave reviews at more than twenty festivals worldwide, the film was released theatrically in October 2006, and has just been released on DVD by Cinema Libre Studio.

Tribeca: What has been happening since The Conventioneers’ world premiere at the 2005 Tribeca Film Festival?

Mora Stephens : New York is our home town and that was an amazing start, but then it had a whole year of festivals. The reception of the film changed with each audience. Where we are in our own current events and politics changes the perception of the film as well; being in different moments in history also effects how people view the film.  Cinema Libre released it theatrically in time for the midterm elections. It’s been a long journey but a very rewarding and exciting one.

We’ve put a lot of special features on the DVD that we’re excited about. There’s a "Behind the Scenes" about the making of the movie which is interesting because we mixed the actors inside the real convention and inside the protest, and the film was done in an entirely improvisational style, so we included some alternate takes for different scenes. There are also stories about how we all got arrested -- all the fun war stories behind the movie!

Tribeca: How many of you were arrested?

Stephens : There were 5 of us arrested. I was arrested with two of my cameramen and my husband Joel -- who produced and co-wrote the film --  was arrested in a separate spot with another one of our producers. We were just five of the 1806 people arrested over the course of those days in New York.

Tribeca: There are such archetypal roles in the film. Did you find that people reacted as differently as the characters in the film?

Stephens : One of the joys of taking it around the world has been seeing all the different responses to the movie. Individual people will usually align themselves with a totally different view by siding with one of the three main leads; in the Romeo and Juliet couple, either Massey or Leah, or Dylan, the interpreter at the convention. And I welcome all the different points of view.

Tribeca: How much of a script and what direction did you give the actors to improvise around?

Stephens : The original story that Joel and I wrote is very, very close to the finished film. But I developed the characters and many of the scenes with the actors in rehearsal, so going into it, working in these real environments, the actors always knew who the characters were. There was never a moment where they didn’t know what was going on, but I wanted the film to feel as real as possible and also give the actors as much freedom as possible, so the style grew out of that. I wanted it to feel as close to being a documentary without really being a documentary.

Tribeca: Do you think the film still – as our president would say – "resignates" today?

Stephens: Absolutely. The main message is about looking at the divide in our country, which is still so present today. Politics can be very personal and ugly and it’s still challenging for two sides to talk. Because both of these characters are very passionate about what they believe in. It was also a celebration of both sides, and a call to go fight for whatever it is that you believe in.

Tribeca: Each of the characters go through very personal struggles as well. How did that add to the message?

Stephens: Well all the characters in the movie are very flawed. But I think that’s what makes them human and hopefully will “resignate” with people as characters that feel real.

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