Juliet Landau’s feature directorial debut, “A Place Among the Dead,” has been “striking an artery, not just a nerve,” she noted.
Perhaps it’s the film’s focus on narcissism that’s been resonating with viewers. Described as a “genre-bending art film,” “‘A Place Among the Dead’ explores the repercussions of growing up under the sway of narcissism and psychological abuse,” according to the film’s synopsis.
“We set out to make an entertaining film and to give voice to what has affected many, to open up a dialogue, which is exactly what has been happening,” Landau said. “Everyone deals with narcissism: whether it be a spouse, partner, ex-partner, boss, co-worker, friend, family member, or our world leaders. Each audience talk-back has lasted hours.”
Local audiences will have the opportunity to add to that discussion, when Landau brings her film to the Poppy Jasper International Film Festival. The festival, marking the first time it’s been in person since 2019, runs April 6-13 at locations in Morgan Hill, Gilroy, San Juan Bautista and Hollister.
“A Place Among the Dead,” which is co-produced and co-written by Landau’s husband Deverill Weekes, screens April 7 at The District Theater in downtown Gilroy, and Landau will lead a panel discussion afterward.
Landau joins a cast that includes Gary Oldman, Ron Perlman, Robert Patrick, Lance Henriksen and Anne Rice. She said the film is “searingly personal,” inviting the viewer to become a participant rather than a spectator.
“Our aim is a visceral, emotional, experiential, roller coaster of a ride,” Landau said. “We want each audience member to embark on Jules’ journey (the character I play) and then turn the lens on themselves.”
Landau has starred in more than 20 films, as well as numerous television shows and provided voice work for various video games and movies. She is perhaps best known for her role as Drusilla in “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” and Loretta King in Tim Burton’s “Ed Wood.”
“A Place Among the Dead” was finished a week before Covid-19 lockdowns gripped the state in March 2020, Landau said, who had also just finished shooting a recurring role on TNT’s “Claws.”
“It has been such a scary time, full of illness and loss,” she said. “Thankfully my husband Deverill and I have been healthy.”
The pandemic lockdowns further decimated an already-dwindling number of avenues for independent filmmakers, making festivals such as Poppy Jasper ever more important, Landau said.
“The mission of this incredible and innovative festival is visionary,” Landau said. “PJIFF doesn’t go for uninteresting, cookie-cutter fare. They champion unique, cutting edge, revolutionary, out-of-the-box movies of all genres. They advocate for underserved and underrepresented voices. They curate a slate of diverse pictures from local filmmakers and all across the globe. An event like this, which brings cultures together, literally shrinks the world.”
An international flair
Festival Director Mattie Scariot said more than 150 filmmakers from 11 countries and five states are attending Poppy Jasper this year. The lineup includes more than 100 short films from 30 different countries.
The festival will feature panel discussions with industry leaders, discussing subjects such as women in film, the film industry, visual effects and more.
The festival will also include a Youth and Student Festival Day showcasing student films from across the world on April 6; panel discussions on Latino representation in the industry on April 11; LGBTQ+ Day highlighting the work of LGBTQ+ filmmakers and stories on April 12; and Iran Day, spotlighting some of the best films from the country including PJIFF alumni Javad Daraei’s “Metamorphosis in the Slaughterhouse” on April 13.
On April 8, the “Poppy Bash!” celebration will premiere the song “Believe” at the Gilroy Event Center, 7588 Monterey St. The night will include a special live performance of the song by its composers—Grammy Award-winner Randy Spendlove, multi-platinum artist Polo Jones and other local musicians. The event, featuring a keynote speech by Landau, will be co-hosted by Jayson Stebbins and Drag Queen Alina Malletti Galore.
Scariot said when she took over as the festival’s director in 2018, her dream was to make it a regional festival in South Santa Clara and San Benito counties, having grown up in the area.
The 2020 event, which Scariot billed as her “dream festival,” was to be the debut of that vision. But the pandemic had other ideas, and the festival was canceled a week before showtime.
“It was hard, but we learned a lot about ourselves,” she said.
In 2021, the Poppy Jasper team pivoted to a virtual format, which proved to be a boon for the festival. Not only was it able to show films from around the world, but it also attracted an international audience, as the virtual format allowed people from different countries easier access.
The local team was also able to connect with film festival organizers from around the country through the Film Festival Alliance, as the larger group worked on coming up with solutions to moving forward during a pandemic.
“We realized we are all trying to do the same thing,” Scariot said. “We’re all trying to empower independent filmmaking.”
Landau said she had heard “raves” about the Poppy Jasper festival and had been thinking about submitting when a friend recommended they do so.
“It just felt like it was meant to be,” she said.
Like superfans of the Grateful Dead who refer to themselves as “Deadheads,” Landau said her film has its “A Place Among the Dead-Heads” who attend every screening, both in-person and virtual.
“We are humbled by how many people have said the movie has been life-changing for them,” she said. “I’m excited about the Dead-Heads who are flying in to attend Poppy Jasper.”
Tickets and passes can be purchased at pjiff2022.eventive.org/passes/buy.
For information, visit pjiff.org.