Behind the Scenes
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New York Times
Review: Love of Il Maestro Drives ‘In Search of Fellini’
Nancy Cartwright, the voice of Bart Simpson on the long-running animated television series, has made her first movie as a screenwriter and producer, a charming drama about the love of movies and youthful passion. “In Search of Fellini” reimagines a whirlwind adventure Ms. Cartwright once had to try to meet the Italian director Federico Fellini. With the help of her longtime collaborator and co-writer, Peter Kjenaas, and the first-time director Taron Lexton, Ms. Cartwright creates a Felliniesque fantasy of her own.
The Hollywood Reporter
‘In Search of Fellini’: Film Review
Taron Lexton’s sentimental road movie recounts a formative real(ish)-life vacation for screenwriter (and voice of Bart Simpson) Nancy Cartwright.
An idealized coming-of-age memoir in which a young woman’s disability-grade innocence doesn’t keep her from making the most of a solo sojourn across Italy, Taron Lexton’s In Search of Fellini speaks to and for women raised on cinematic fairy tales. Inspired by the experiences of The Simpsons star Nancy Cartwright, who before creating the voice of Bart went off hunting the auteur of La Dolce Vita, it marks the thesp’s first screenplay (co-written by another newbie, Peter Kjenaas). But however much its sentimentalized innocence stretches credulity, the overall production remains polished, and young dreamers who come across it in limited release may well embrace it.
Ksenia Solo plays Lucy, a blonde waif raised by a mother (Maria Bello’s Claire) who protected her from nearly every harsh reality life has to offer. Claire fails to protect Lucy from art house cinema, though: Upon stumbling into a screening of La Strada, Lucy sees a kindred spirit in sacrificial lamb Giulietta Masina. She falls hard for Fellini, gathering a stack of VHS tapes (the year is 1993) and absorbing the weird circus of his worldview.
Opening with a dream-sequence that serves as a statement of purpose, In Search of Fellini is a film about cinema and the magic of the medium, its deep history and the joy it conjures in those who truly love the moving picture. The sequence also establishes that this is more reality-adjacent than real. The viewer who decides to submit to the film’s immediately apparent charms will be rewarded with a delightful coming of age story that carefully dips into the fantasy that lies at the heart of cinema.
In Search of Fellini follows the story of Lucy (Ksenia Solo), a 20-year-old who has never really experienced adult life because of the overbearing parenting style of her snakebit-by-the-world mother Claire (Maria Bello). After a voiceover-prologue that establishes Claire’s backstory and Lucy’s origins, the film quickly fasts forward to the early ‘90s, when Claire is diagnosed with advanced and aggressive cancer and Lucy is 20. Claire discusses her ailment with her sister and intends to keep it a secret from Lucy, but Lucy finds out anyhow. This commences a classic coming of age narrative.
Lucy endeavors to find a job, but has no skills. She is interested in film, though, and parlays that into an application that leads to an interview…at a local porn distributor, where her complete lack of gumption and worldliness sets up a funny scene that ultimately ends with her in tears. A few blocks from the failed interview, she quite literally stumbles upon a Fellini film festival. While Lucy grew up voraciously consuming films, she only ever watched sappy ‘50s-era Hollywood productions; this is her first taste of European art cinema. After watching La Strada on the big screen, she has an epiphany.
Behind the Lens
With all the hallmarks of a Fellini film itself, from interpretive and metaphoric visuals to story, the structure of the film interlaces Fellini films with our heroine Lucy’s journey through life as she lives out her fantasies of what she believes the world is thanks to Fellini’s lens. And as we see unfold, life really IS a Fellini movie; from life and death to love and sorrow and everything in between. Obsessed with Fellini, his films, and his storytelling, and having led a very sheltered life under the watchful eye of her loving but over-protective mother Claire, Lucy strikes out on her own and heads to Italy IN SEARCH OF FELLINI.
The story itself is beautiful and resonant. Co-written by Nancy Cartwright and Peter Kjenaas, and based on/inspired by a personal journey of Cartwright’s decades ago, ISOF has been 20 years in the making. Going through may itterations before reaching this ultimate version, the characters are well defined – even if just by a look – to the point that we know each one of them even without them saying a word. Perhaps this is more readily apparent to a Fellini fan, but no words are even necessary to “know” each character. Just a visual, and of course thanks to the editing of Spencer Jones and Alexa Vier, we are given Fellini context with a lovely ebb and flow style. Standout is the story construct as we go back and forth between Claire and Lucy. While Claire sits at home in America watching Fellini films with her sister Kerri, she finally begins to understand Lucy, as the audience sees Lucy playing out life for the first time, an ocean away. Beautifully done and tacitly speaks to that never-ending umbilical cord between Claire and Lucy.
About the Film
Directed by: Taron Lexton
Starring: Ksenia Solo, Maria Bello, Mary Lynn Rajskub
Written By: Nancy Cartwright, Peter Kjenaas
Executive Producers: Nancy Cartwright, Kevin Burke, Monika Bacardi, Andrea Iervolino
Producers: Peter Kjenaas, Monica Gil, Nathan Lorch, Milena Ferreira, Taron Lexton, Michael Doven
Production Services: Nicola Rosada, 360 Degrees Film
Runtime: 100 minutes
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|CAST AND CREW|
|Kerri||MARY LYNN RAJSKUB|
|Directed by||TARON LEXTON|
|Written by||NANCY CARTWRIGHT|
|Executive Producers||NANCY CARTWRIGHT|
|Casting||LISA LONDON &
|Production Services||NICOLA ROSADA/360 DEGREES FILM|
|Director of Photography||KEVIN GARRISON|
K. SPENCER JONES
|Production Designer||TODD JEFFERY|
In 2014, when Nancy Cartwright sat me down over coffee and relayed her extraordinary true experiences pursuing Federico Fellini in her youth—which inspired her screenplay—I was electrified. Like most people, I had seen a few of Fellini’s films, but I seized this opportunity to watch every single one of them. I sought out every book, documentary and personal friend of Fellini that I could find. I began to discover the complex and fascinating world of Fellini himself and saw how strikingly it intertwined with Nancy’s own story.
As the cast began to assemble, including the brilliant trio of Ksenia Solo, Maria Bello and Mary Lynn Rajskub, each brought new layers of depth and richness to the film. The process was incredibly collaborative, and was an amazing evolution from Nancy’s original experience in 1985, to her one-woman show in 1995, to the screenplay in 2015, including the daily discoveries of filming in one of the most beautiful places on Earth.
The film grew, steeped in authenticity and symbolism, a dreamscape of real Italian locations, true stories, fantasies and Fellini’s own films and pathos. It is a love letter to Italy, an homage to Fellini and an exploration of Nancy’s beautiful true story. At its core, it’s simply a story about growing up and about the thrilling and sometimes terrifying few inches between childhood and adulthood.
-Taron Lexton, Director