Locally made sci-fi movie by Colonie filmmaker peers into the void

A scene from the film “A Void,” featuring lead actors Mu-Shaka Benson, left, and Kristin Noriega, right. (photo provided)
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A scene from the film “A Void,” featuring lead actors Mu-Shaka Benson, left, and Kristin Noriega, right. (photo provided)

Science fiction allows us to explore our worst fears and wondrous hopes. “A Void,” a short feature created by Colonie filmmaker Joe Gietl, does the former.

Featured this weekend at The Madison Theater, the film follows two parents who have lost a child. One, played by Kristin Noriega, turns to her job at a physics lab, creating a possible replacement for the child. The other, played by Mu-Shaka Benson, is consumed by the past.

The idea for the film was initially sparked by the idea that scientists could create a stable void or a black hole. However, it’s also informed by Gietl’s life.

Growing up in Colonie, the 32-year-old had creative inclinations but was never really encouraged to seriously pursue a career in the arts.

“It wasn’t something that was fostered in me that that was a feasible or attainable goal,” Gietl said, adding that he was pretty listless as a kid. He eventually started using drugs, which led to him dropping out of college and struggling to hold down jobs.

Then, 11 years ago this month, Gietl got sober, in part because he focused on songwriting.

“. . . when I got sober a big thing for me was finding my creativity to cope with it and it gave me a sense of purpose, something I wanted more than that thing,” Gietl said. “I don’t know if everybody has that so I feel extremely lucky to have this passion.”

He spent the first four years or so dedicating himself to songwriting and then about five years ago, he turned to filmmaking. Gietl had always enjoyed foreign and independent films, but during those years, he dedicated himself to learning as much as he could about the filmmaking process.

“I became way more obsessive about the craft of filmmaking and watching interviews with filmmakers and doing a masterclass and reading books about filmmaking and watching foreign films and different directors,” Gietl said.

He also started writing scripts, including “Museum,” which became his first film and was released two years ago.

While working on the script for “A Void,” Gietl was influenced by “One More Time with Feeling,” a film following the making of Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds album “Skeleton Tree,” which was recorded in the wake of Cave’s teenage son’s tragic death. That loss changed the entire project; “It just couldn’t help but become something totally different from what they set out to make,” Gietl said.

Throughout the writing process for “A Void” Gietl disassembled and rebuilt the storyline.

“I think a lot of the actual story was me sort of grappling [with] my own feelings of existential dread . . . I think [there’s] probably a lot of people feeling that these days; that powerlessness to change something in your life,” Gietl said. The script ruminates on questions not easily answered, such as “What if something so bad happened that you couldn’t move on but you were still forced to exist?”

To bring this layered storyline to the screen, Gietl worked with the APB Film Collective of Troy, which works with artists and craftspeople of all skill levels to bring film projects to life.

The group started a few years ago after several local filmmakers got together to work on “Parthenon” by Frank Mosley.

“Once that film was over, we realized that not only did we not want to stop making films together, but that we work great together, and we also had a strong skill set in making something big with very little money and resources,” said producer John Yost. “We felt it was time to help others and share in our resources and expertise.”

Since then, they’ve worked on 16 films and have six projects in development. With “A Void,” they helped with everything from the visual effects to production to cinematography.

When it came to funding, Gietl invested, as did his parents. His expanding network also connected him to Beth Hinde, a producer and writer based in Des Moines, Iowa who became the primary investor of the film after taking a look at the script.

“She changed my life in that regard,” Gietl said.

Before the pandemic hit, they filmed the entire feature in several locations around the greater Capital Region, including a former Masonic lodge, a funeral home and, perhaps most appropriately, the University at Albany’s ion beam laboratory.

“I couldn’t recreate an ion beam laboratory on my budget but it was the perfect location. It’s scientifically accurate to the film we were doing,” Gietl said.

It also speaks to the pros of making a film in the Capital Region.

“I think there was this illusion that you need to be out in LA to make a film. That’s the perspective I used to have. It’s just not true anymore,” Gietl said, adding, “I think there’s a value in representing places you don’t usually see on film. That’s something that will help your voice stand out in the crowd.”

The premiere on Sunday will mark the APB Film Collective’s first post-pandemic screening.

“With this screening of ‘A Void,’ we are not only excited to finally bring Joe’s film to the big screen but also to finally be back in theaters watching films with everyone,” Yost said.

This fall, the group plans to hold a screening of “Devour,” by Victoria Diana, another APB film.

“This year we have decided to focus even more on making films that will not only act as a creative outlet for our members and team but also as possible next steps into the industry as a whole. We’ve always wanted a good balance of both, and after 4 years of hard work we feel it’s time to take it a step further in terms of opportunities for the team and the stories we have always wanted to tell,” Yost said.

There will be screenings at 7 and 8 p.m. on Sunday at the Madison Theater. Tickets are free but donations are accepted. At 7 p.m. Saturday there will also be a cast and crew screening, with limited tickets available for the public.

Categories: Entertainment

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