Hollywood Independent Reel Film Festival, February 2019 All Voices FIlm Festival on Amazon Prime with NINETEEN 5 star reviews, June 2019 Long Island Film Festival, July 2019
Teddy's Take on Waking Venus, Teddy's Takes for June 09, 2019 by Ted Durgin www.teddystakes.com
It's rare that Teddy's Takes reviews a short film. Short films are those near-mythic little flicks, each generally under a half-hour in length, that most of the general public doesn't even hear about until Academy Award time when they get their own special category. In general, but not always, they are films made by budding directors looking to showcase what they can do in the hopes of one day convincing Hollywood or -- at least someone with bucks -- to finance a feature-length film of theirs that will get distribution. They play mostly at film festivals and on various digital outlets.
oK, full disclosure. This isn't so much a review as it is an endorsement. "Waking Venus" is a new short film (under 18 minutes) that had its premiere at the Hollywood Film Festival back in February, will next be screened at the Long Island International Film Expo on July 14, and premiered this past week on Amazon Prime.
So, why is it getting coverage in Teddy's Takes? Two of the main creative forces behind it are friends and former classmates of mine at the University of Maryland Baltimore County (UMBC)! "Waking Venus" is written and directed by James Brown Orleans and it stars Cara Shaffer in the title role. Cara also gets story, casting, and producer credit here. It's an intense piece of indie cinema that I am privileged to applaud here -- further proof that UMBC should never be thought of as U Made a Bad Choice (that and we kicked the University of Virginia's ass in the NCAA Tournament last year).
aking a short film and getting it into legitimate film festival competition is almost as hard as a No. 16 seed beating a No. 1 seed in the annual basketball tourney. An untold number of filmed works don't get nearly as far as James and Cara's "Waking Venus" have.
The film centers on a recently recovered anorexic (a brave Shaffer), who is on the verge of learning to forgive herself and expel that terrible eating disorder voice (creepily personified by Stephanie Patent) that's been in her head ever since she was a teen. The film is a look into Venus' mind at a critical crossroads, with the tension being: "Will she finally move forward empowered into the light of the future or, once again, allow herself to be pulled back a victim into the darkness of her past?"
Briefly, her story echoes off of another patient's, Janet (Kayla Barr), who seems to have it more together and is even making plans once she is discharged from the eating disorder clinic -- plans that include her and Venus getting a place together and being each other's support system. Janet's fate is one of the film's more quietly powerful revelations.
If you haven't surmised by now, "Waking Venus" ain't exactly a fun flick to watch. But it's not intended to be. As with any good short film, the narrative is lean and plunges you right into the drama in its first seconds. If you do give it a look, you'll definitely dodge more than a F bombs, and Cara's character gets pretty bloodied (in her mind's eye). It's pretty unflinching material. But, for sure, worth a look-see.
I am almost ashamed to say one of my first reactions afterwards was one of the most common reactions my novel, "The Totally Gnarly, Way Bogus Murder of Muffy McGregor" received when it was published in 2016. I had a lot of people write and tell me they enjoyed the heck out of reading the book. But several of those who knew me best inevitably would preface their kind words with the phrase (or some variation of it): "Huh? It's actually a REAL novel!"
So, yeah, after watching "Waking Venus" and peripherally following the film's progress in the months leading up to it's film festival and Amazon Prime debuts, my reaction was, "Huh? James and Cara actually made a REAL film!" Well, bravo for them. My only criticism was James didn't appear in the film himself, as he was one of UMBC's best student-actors back in the day and he has played Banzai in "The Lion King" on Broadway for the past 16 years.
Strong acting, insightful direction, and realistic dialogue are just a few of the great things about “Waking Venus.” It’s not always easy to watch (Venus’ pain practically jumps off the screen) but the payoff for squirming in my seat was witnessing great performances by the entire cast. The film is playing at a bunch of 2019 film festivals (Hollywood, Long Island, etc.) and it’s easy to see why: actress Cara Shaffer (Venus) leaves it all on the field. Her performance is full of raw emotion that never devolves into melodrama. I can’t wait to see what she and writer/director James Brown-Orleans do next.
I am always pleased by the work presented on Amazon's short films and "Waking Venus" is no exception. I was especially impressed by the actor who portrayed the transgender therapist. The voice, the affectations, the compassion, the connectedness to the character were all exceptional. Bravo to Kyle Mitchell for a job well done! Hope to see you in more films - short as well as mainstream.
While social commentary movies tend to be difficult to watch, this one was different. A tough subject but I was glued to the screen. The ladies did a marvelous job bringing it to life and I felt like I was a fly on the wall witnessing their struggles as opposed to just watching a movie. The stand out performance, just by a bit - they were all amazing - was Cara Shaffer. Her mannerisms, her speaking, and the way she actually became the role was acting genus.Well done all the ladies in this short.
A powerful film with complex characters. This film was obviously well thought out and the acting clearly comes from the heart of each character. Cara Shaffer’s performance stands out as the best but the entire crew does a wonderful job with a tough subject. Well written and well acted this film is a must see for a new perspective into a difficult subject!
The Story, Direction, Acting and Design elements are all superb in this darkly intense, and visually stunning short! Not realizing from the film's title that the short takes you deep into the world of Psychiatric treatment brought on by Eating Disorders (of which I happen to have a lot of personal experience myself), the mental illness' depiction in WAKING VENUS realistically portrays the hurt and suffering felt by those caught in this frightening world. CARA SHAFFER in the title role (along with all of the cast members) is simultaneously moving and likeable by wisely avoiding the maudlin and self-pitying traps that befall many actors and directors delving into this potentially depressing genre.
In it's brief 19 minutes, WAKING VENUS tackles several currently relevant issues of social justice. Thankfully however, director James Brown-Orleans prevents an overly virtuous and preachy tone by focusing the film's story telling thru graphically suspenseful turns, flashbacks, and the truthful fact that the choice is really ours to create and rewrite the future of our own happy life-story.