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Jake's (Scott Cohen) parole officer tells him he's like a cat that's already used up eight lives, hanging on to his hope, and his freedom, by a fingernail. Before relocating from rural Alaska to Brooklyn, he's warned that one more slip up at work or with alcohol and he will be going back to jail. Much to Jake's misfortune, his trip home poses far more challenges than he bargained for. His brother is dead, his father (Judd Hirsch) and sister-in-law (Susan Floyd) greet him with skepticism and disdain, and his nephew struggles to connect with Jake, a man who disappeared from the neighborhood a decade ago without a trace. In this moving story about a lost man trying to step out of his brother's shadow, writer and director Todd S. Yellin introduces a cascading series of challenges and heartaches that eventually bring Jake to the brink of emotional despair. He valiantly takes over the family's furniture business, only to find that his customers won't trust anyone but his brother; then, he tries to care for his widowed sister-in-law, but his presence is just a painful reminder of what's been lost; and when he tries to grow close to his father, he realizes that his brother has always been "dad's favorite." It is only when Jake gets a huge order at the shop, a struggle he cannot overcome on his own, that the family finally bands together, rallying to build a new vision for the future.
Director's Statement Collapse
Brother's Shadow is an attempt to reflect on what I enjoy watching. Films that follow all-too-human characters, with whom we sympathize despite questionable choices; films set in specifically drawn worlds; films that highlight bravura acting; films such as Five Easy Pieces and Raging Bull. My writing partner, Ivan Krim, and I created a central character who resorts to surrendering his most precious commodity-his identity. This moment happens halfway through the story when Jake Groden believes that pretending to be his deceased twin is his last chance at redemption. The goal is to have viewers so desperate for him to succeed that they become complicit when he betrays his identity. Identity infuses how I view the relationships among the three generations of Groden men. Though often repelled by the others, each is drawn to the same behaviors. Are we cursed to repeat the sins of our fathers? Not always. Individuality can exist, but only in the presence of self-awareness. The identity theme is alluded to when Jake explains his passion for wood. No two trees have exactly the same pattern of grain, just as no two people have the same fingerprints, even identical twins.
Having the characters discuss the uniqueness of the grain is a by-product of setting the movie in a woodshop. As someone whose handiness around the house rarely extends beyond screwing in a light bulb, I didn't choose to make a film about furniture craftsmen because of personal experience. As a documentary filmmaker, I enjoy exploring the textures of worlds that are unfamiliar. Woodworking, rarely seen in feature films, is such a world. I would like to do for fine furniture making, what Big Night and Eat Drink Man Woman did for cooking. In preparation, I spent two weeks with a mini-DV camera as a fly-on-the-wall in the woodshop of Sam Maloof; a MacArthur Genius Grant winner whose rocking chairs are iconic American creations. Later I found Scott Braun, who, at first glance, could be Jake Groden. Scott is a gifted, irascible Brooklyn Jewish furniture maker whose philosophy about handmade furniture approaches zealotry. He served as our on-set furniture-making guru.
Visually, we tried to make wood a character in the film without going too far. I favor having fun with composition and movement as long as camera technique doesn't overwhelm the characters and scope of the story. The film was able to support a few stylized moments-such as the slow motion sawdust blowing or Jake standing on his finely balanced creation-but never at the expense of suspension of disbelief. Hopefully such moments help make Brother's Shadow both entertaining and resonant.
Film Information Collapse
[SHADO] | 2006 | 89 | Narrative Feature
Directed by: Ishai Setton and Todd Yellin
Foreign Title: (Brother's Shadow)
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About the Director(s)Collapse
After earning an MFA in film production from USC, Todd S. Yellin became the first person to film Tibetan refugees escaping over the Himalayas. His footage was broadcast worldwide by Reuters, and his account was published in The Progressive. In 1998, Yellin smuggled footage out of Myanmar (Burma) and assembled a short documentary chronicling the abuses of an oppressive military regime. By 2002, he wrote and directed the TV pilot Street Showdown and was a videographer on the feature documentary Tibet:Cry of the Snow Lion. In 2003, his screenplay, The Mentalist, was an American Screenwriters Association finalist. Yellin spent 14 years tutoring high school chemistry, math, English, and history while trying to get his first feature film off the ground. He now works as a Netflix product manager while he develops his next film. Born in Flushing, Yellin currently resides in Los Angeles.