Columbia University School of the Arts Film Program Associate Professor Eric Mendelsohn's award-winning film 3 Backyards will open at the IFC Center in New York on March 11. More than 25 of Mendelsohn's students, past and present, were members of his crew for the film, for which Mendelsohn won Best Director in the Dramatic Competition at the 2010 Sundance Film Festival. He won the same directing prize at Sundance in 1999, for his film Judy Berlin, making him the first and only two-time winner of the prize in Sundance history. The film was featured in the weekend arts section of The New York Times on March 6.
A special preview screening of the film, hosted by Jonathan Demme, was held March 3 at the Jacob Burns Film Center in Pleasantville, New York. The screening was followed by a Q and A with both Demme and Mendelsohn. "I'm a huge fan of Judy Berlin, Eric's first film, and the grand style in which that wonderful picture unfolded. I'm thrilled to be hosting the sneak preview of his new movie, 3 Backyards, at the Jacob Burns Center," Demme said.
3 Backyards is the story of three residents of the same town over the course of one seemingly perfect autumn day. The film looks past familiar suburban exteriors and instead peers deeply into the private lives of its characters as they embark on tiny, personal journeys that eventually carry them vast distances from everything that is familiar. A businessman (Elias Koteas) with marital troubles gets "lost" on a business trip without ever leaving town. A little girl (Rachel Resheff) steals her mother's jewelry in the morning and finds herself faced with frightening, adult descisions by late afternoon. A well-meaning housewife (Edie Falco) offers her celebrity neighbor (Embeth Davidtz) a lift and the trip detours into unsettling territory. By day's end, the familiar geography of the suburban landscape dissolves into a place of mystery, loss and potential danger; a dreamscape where identity can be challenged, shattered, and sometimes reclaimed.
"I was aware when I was writing this film, that I was interested in investigating another kind of ‘backyard’ that each of us has. Within all three characters, I was determined to reveal the private, shadowy, rarely acknowledged part of their psyches. ... I wanted to get to know the secret, shady interiors and vast, scary exteriors of both the characters and the town," Mendelsohn said in his director's statement.
Shot on location on Long Island, the film debuted at Sundance and was selected for the 2010 New Directors/New Films festival. It had its international premiere at the 2010 Deauville Film Festival.
"Mendelsohn proves to be the tone poet-auteur of Long island. ... Exceptionally acted, Mendelsohn's portrait of L.I. suburbia goes beyond character study to encompass both the beauty (sun, sea) and ineffable mystery of a specific place."
-- The Village Voice
"Turning the Long Island suburbs into a surrealist carousel, helmer-writer Eric Mendelsohn returns with his first feature in a decade and the proposition that art film still has a place in the world -- which is an exhilarating idea, especially as represented by 3 Backyards, an exquisite example of calculated execution in pursuit of elusive ideas."
"Eric Mendelsohn does for Long Island what [Woody] Allen used to do for Manhattan. Without sticky sentiment, he is its cinematic laureate. Other directors take the easy way out when dealing with suburbia and go for satire: Mendelsohn, on the other hand, celebrates it, even if the take is melancholic. ... This is everything a New Directors film should be."
Mendelsohn has been working in the New York film industry for the past 20 years. Judy Berlin, his feature film debut, starring The Sopranos’s Edie Falco, Madeline Kahn, Barbara Barrie, and Julie Kavner was an Official Selection of the Cannes Film Festival (‘Un Certain Regard’), won Best Independent Film at the Hamptons Film Festival, the directing prize at Sundance as mentioned, and was nominated for three Independent Spirit Awards. His short film Through An Open Window, starring Anne Meara and Cynthia Nixon, premiered at Sundance, screened at festivals internationally, was an Official Selection of Cannes and garnered Mendelsohn a guest spot on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno.
His screenplays have been developed at the Sundance Institute labs and he is a producer on the documentary films of Rebecca Dreyfus, including Stolen, which won the Best Documentary prize at the New York/Avignon Film Festival, and Bye Bye Babushka. He is a mentor for the Sundance Institute’s Writer’s Lab and recently served as story editor on lab fellow Alex Rivera's feature debut Sleep Dealer. In the field of film design, Mendelsohn has worked for writer/director Woody Allen for over eight years on such films as Crimes and Misdemeanors, Husbands and Wives, Bullets Over Broadway, Alice and Everyone Says I Love You.