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Friday, January 29, 2016

Raw, Funny, and Infuriating: Rene Russo and Oliver Platt in Frank and Cindy

Posted By on Fri, Jan 29, 2016 at 10:00 AM

click to enlarge Oliver Platt and Rene Russo in 'Frank and Cindy' - SF INDIEFEST
  • SF IndieFest
  • Oliver Platt and Rene Russo in 'Frank and Cindy'

G. J. Echternkamp
never wanted to be the guy who made movies about his family. But, really, he had such great material it was hard to resist. His stepfather, Frank, had been part of the '80s band OXO, which had one hit, “Whirly Girl,” and his mother, Cindy, who married Frank hoping for a life filled with award shows and glamour. Things didn’t turn out that way.

Echternkamp, who is in Peru right now, working on his next project, talked via Skype about how he ended up making a documentary, Frank and Cindy, and now a feature film with the same name about his parents. The movie opens the SF IndieFest on Feb. 11. 

Echternkamp said when he was making shorts for his website, he made a five-minute short about Frank. A fashion photographer in London convinced him it should be a full-length documentary.

“I wasn’t sold on idea to begin with — I’d always made fun of people who made movies about their families,” he said. “I just assumed everyone’s families were bullshit. Then I sat down with them and all the dark secrets about affairs and drug problems came out, and his responses were so funny and her responses to him are so funny — it’s sort of a comedy, but it’s much more emotional.”

The movie went on to win the best documentary award at several festivals, and was on This American Life. Host Ira Glass said about it: "Every single thing about Frank and Cindy seems new and fresh and alive. It's rare to see a documentary that's so raw and funny and infuriating too."

Echternkamp was doing some acting and was unsure of his next steps after the documentary got lots of critical praise. An agent of his thought the story of Frank and Cindy would make a great feature, and he helped get Rene Russo and Oliver Platt to star in it. Echternkamp was a little reticent at first, but then went ahead, thinking he’d hand off the story. But Russo insisted he direct.

“She thought other directors were not fundamentalist with the text,” he said. “She had created Cindy, and she was so invested in verisimilitude and other directors would want to make Frank skinny or something. I was really nervous, but I felt like there was no question I didn’t understand or couldn’t answer about the characters.”

So how was it filming a feature movie about his own life? Really weird, Echternkamp says. The movie was shot in the house Frank and Cindy lived in and Echternkamp had the probably fairly uncommon experience of directing an actor playing a slightly younger him.

“I decided I wasn’t even going to try and tell Johnny Simmons, the actor who played G.J. what to do,” he said. “I told him to adapt the character to what would work best for him.”

Working on the movie was emotional, Echternkamp says, mentioning a scene where Russo talks about how she’s failed as a mother.

“She was giving so much,” he says of Russo. “She’s playing my mother who I love and who she loves. I was looking at a hand held monitor with a hoodie on, crying, and I just found the amount of respect and passion she had for Cindy and Frank and also for me, touching.”

Frank and Cindy, Thursday, Feb. 11, 7:30 p.m., at the Brava Theater, 2781 24th St.

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Emily Wilson


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