FilmSchoolSF President Talks about Releasing his Feature Film

“It’s been an amazing journey the last few weeks as my film TORN was released in theaters. Receiving so much critical praise has been terrific, To get great reviews in both of my hometown papers – The New York Times and San Francisco Chronicle – has been incredible. My favorite part of the whole experience has been the Q&A sessions with the audience – hearing what the film has meant to them. As a filmmaker, by the time you finish your movie, you’re never 100% sure it works for viewers as you hope it will. I truly believe that it is the audience that completes your film, and the overwhelmingly positive response we’ve received has been wonderful and humbling. Thank you everyone who has seen the film and posted feedback on Rotten Tomatoes and Fandango.” Jeremiah Birnbaum

Produced by Fog City Pictures with a crew made up 50% of FilmSchoolSF students, the feature-film “TORN” has been held over in theaters another week. Directed & produced by FilmSchoolSF President, Jeremiah Birnbaum, the film has received phenomenal reviews:

Sensitive and profoundly human.” – Jeannette Catsoulis, THE NEW YORK TIMES

Superb, powerful performances.” – Jeffrey Lyons, LYONS DEN RADIO

“The movie’s whodunit elements, hold the viewer until the finish.” – Mick LaSalle, THE SAN FRANCISCO CHRONICLE

Torn rings with the sound of quiet truth.” – Andrew Lapin, THE DISSOLVE

Devastating emotional authenticity.” – David Noh, FILM JOURNAL INTERNATIONAL

Torn capitalizes on a gripping and emotional storyline to deliver a terrific ending.” – Tony Hicks, SAN JOSE MERCURY NEWS

See the film this weekend in San Francisco at The Opera Plaza: https://tickets.landmarkt…keting.aspx?TheatreID=226

Also check out the reactions from the moviegoers on TORN’s facebook page – click here

TORN – Opening night in San Francisco: SOLD OUT!

Fabulous night in San Francisco – TORN the San Francisco premiere was completely sold out! The October 25 showing also featured a wonderfully insightful Q&A session with the director Jeremiah Birnbaum and his creative crew of producers. See the photo slideshow above and below are some moments of the opening night, captured in video.

“It was really real. Not your typical dramatic Hollywood film”

A relatable and powerful film – “The message of TORN blew us away”

“It really touched my heart. I really felt for the characters”

TORN: San Francisco, Berkeley, Santa Clara, LA premiere this friday – October 25

TORN, which premiered in New York City on October 18th, was called “sensitive and profoundly human” by the New York Times. Directed by Jeremiah Birnbaum, the film expands this Friday, October 25th, to five cities premiere on the west coast: San Francisco, Los Angeles, Berkeley, Santa Clara and Irvine. For tickets and showtimes see theater info below and read the full New York Times review here (

San Francisco & Berkeley (opens Friday, 10/25)
Landmark’s Opera Plaza Cinema (
Landmark’s Shattuck Cinema (

Santa Clara (opens Friday, 10/25)
AMC Mercado 20 (

Los Angeles & Irvine (opens Friday, 10/25)
Laemmle’s Music Hall 3 (
Edwards Westpark 8 (

Watch the trailer for the film at

TORN: San Francisco Premiere berkeley school digital filmmaking

‘Torn,’ a Look at a Bombing’s Aftermath – New York Times Review

Subdued in mood and palette, “Torn” sensitively explores the aftermath of a mall bombing through the eyes of two mothers who each lost a teenage son in the explosion.

Drawn together at the disaster site and the police station, Maryam (Mahnoor Baloch), a poised Pakistani-American real estate agent, and Lea (Dendrie Taylor), a struggling office cleaner, form a tentative friendship. But when Maryam’s deceased son is learned to have frequented a mosque attended by a radical Muslim, and becomes the bombing’s prime suspect, hostility and defensiveness swiftly eradicate the women’s mutual empathy.

Torn Screenshot Jeremiah Birnbaum
As questions and revelations about both boys begin to surface, the director, Jeremiah Birnbaum, keeps the emotions convincingly intense if largely internalized, forcing the actors to express themselves in small, profoundly human gestures. Fathers — one Muslim, one evangelical Christian — hover helplessly on the margins, each having paid a price for his religious beliefs.

Slowly uncovering the prejudices that calamity can unleash, Michael Richter’s screenplay lays bare the damage wrought by Sept. 11 while deftly dodging hysteria, wondering how we differentiate between innocent teenage behaviors and dangerous red flags. Most of all, it wonders if we can ever fully know the people we live with, leaving the question to resonate as deeply as the two women’s grief.

THE HOLLYWOOD REPORTER – OCTOBER 16, 2013: “Torn: Film Review.” By: Frank Scheck

The Bottom Line

This well-wrought, sensitive drama explores its incendiary topics with an uncommon subtlety.
Jeremiah Birnbaum
Michael Richter
Mahnoor Baloch, Dendrie Taylor, Faran Tahir, Sharon Washington, Patrick St. Esprit, John Heard

Jeremiah Birnbaum’s drama explores the unlikely friendship between two mothers after their sons are killed in a shopping mall explosion

A potentially melodramatic plotline is handled with a refreshing subtlety in Jeremiah Birnbaum’s quietly effective drama about the aftermath of a deadly shopping mall explosion. Depicting the burgeoning friendship between the mothers of two teenagers killed in the blast, both of whom are eventually suspected of the crime, Torn approaches its in incendiary topical issues with intelligent modesty.

After ten people are killed in a blast initially described as a gas main explosion, among the grieving survivors are Muslim, Pakistani-born Maryam (Mahnoor Baloch) and American single mother Lea (Dendrie Taylor). United by their shared grief, the two women turn to each other for emotional support. But their relationship eventually turns hostile when an investigation led by a police detective (John Heard) and an FBI agent (Sharon Washington) reveals that each of their sons is a suspect. Maryam’s son Walter, whose father Ali (Faran Tahir) was mistakenly arrested after 9/11, turns out to have been attending a local mosque. And Lea’s son Walter was the victim of school bullying who vowed revenge on his tormentors, several of whom were either killed or injured in the incident.

Michael Richter’s screenplay weaves together its various themes and such subplots as Lea’s tentatively resuming a relationship with her long estranged ex-husband (Patrick St. Esprit) with intelligence and sensitivity, not to mention an uncommon succinctness (the film runs a scant 80 min). The relationships between the complex characters are well drawn, and the ironic ending manages to touchingly upend our expectations.

Director Birnbaum has drawn well-nuanced performances from the ensemble, especially the two female leads who render their characters’ actions, such as Lea’s undisguised hostility to the authorities investigating the case, thoroughly believable.

Although it’s ultimately a bit too slight to make much of an impact, Torn effectively demonstrates that hot-button issues can be explored without resorting to excessive histrionics.

Opens Oct. 18 (Brainstorm Media/The Film Collective)
Production: Fog City Pictures, Objective 49, Precept Productions
Cast: Mahnoor Baloch, Dendrie Taylor, Faran Tahir, John Heard, Sharon Washington, Patrick St. Esprit
Director: Jeremiah Birnbaum
Screenwriter: Michael Richter
Producers: Michael Richter, James Burke, Jeremiah Birnbaum
Executive producer: Jawad Qureshi
Director of photography: Sam Chase
Editor: Bruce Cannon
Production designer: Aiyana Trotter
Costume designer: Tamara Chandler
Composers: David Reid, Derek Bermel
Not rated, 80 min.

THE VILLAGE VOICE – OCTOBER 15, 2013: “A Tender, Well-Performed Narrative on Multicultural Intricacies.” By: John Oursler

Multicultural wish-fulfillment narratives are common in American indies, particularly post–9-11. The best, like 2007’s The Visitor, keep the maudlin hand-holding to a minimum and allow the complexities of human interaction to do the heavy lifting. Jeremiah Birnbaum’s Torn does just that, so when the inevitable camaraderie between unlikely characters develops, it actually feels possible. Maryam (Mahnoor Baloch), a Muslim American, and Lea (Dendrie Taylor), a stereotypically blue-collar Caucasian, meet after an explosion at the local mall has killed their teenage sons. Singularly shared experience quickly bonds the two, until the impending investigation into whether Maryam’s mosque-attending son harbored anti-American sentiment ignites an unfortunate blame game. The highly charged material allows Baloch and Taylor to express a full range of emotions, and their nuanced performances greatly benefit the film. Michael Richter’s intimate script traverses this mercurial territory without veering into hysterics—a great accomplishment. When the women tearfully confront one another, you’re on the journey toward acceptance with them. Made for less than $500,000, Torn is proof that a little can go a long way. In fact, the microscale perfectly lends itself to the story’s quiet revelations. Sure, it feels a little bit like a “very special” ABC Family presentation, but sometimes that sort of tenderness is exactly what the world needs.

TORN – The Official Trailer

An unexpected bond forms between two women when their sons are killed in an explosion at a local shopping mall. When the police find evidence of a bomb, one of the sons becomes the prime suspect, threatening the two mothers’ new friendship and forcing them to question how well they knew their own children. Torn is a powerful dramatic journey that invites each of us to confront our own perceptions of the world and one another.

Moonlight Sonata – A Feature Film

Moonlight Sonata Travels to Cannes Film Festival and More…

Moonlight Sonata screened at the famed CANNES FILM FESTIVAL last week to a positive and appreciative crowd. Near the same time, on the other side of the world, the film played at the Big Island Film Festival in Waikoloa, Hawaii. These come after great showings at the Honolulu International Film Festival where the film won the coveted Big Kahuna award for Excellence in Filmmaking, and a fantastic world premiere at the California Independent Film Festival. Moonlight Sonata is excited for its next big showing – a spot at the Staten Island Film Festival the first week of June.

Moonlight Sonata writer/director Celik Kayalar and others were interviewed by after the California Independent Film Festival.

Check out the interviews with Celik Kayalar and Moonlight Sonata Line Producer, Milena Grozeva-Levy.

Have a look at the Moonlight Sonata website to see the trailer, photos and more.

‘Moonlight Sonate’, FilmschoolSF’s 3rd Feature Film announces wrap of principal photography

“MOONLIGHT SONATA”, our third independent feature film at FilmschoolSF by the Fog City Pictures, has wrapped its principal photography on October 31st, after 5 weeks of shooting in the Bay Area ( in HD, Digital Format ). After completing a few pickup scenes, the film will be edited for submission to prestigious Film Festivals and will be prepared for wide theatrical release.

Celik Kayalar, PhD, the director of our “Film Acting Program” at FilmschoolSF wrote, directed and executive-produced the psychological thriller. The producers were Jeremiah Birnbaum, the Founder of Fog City Pictures, and Milena Grozeva-Levy, one of our Digital Filmmaking Faculty.
“Moonlight Sonata” is the story of a privileged San Francisco family, the difficult moral choices its members make and the consequences they have to face, told in the genre of a modern psychological thriller with surprising twists and turns along the way, all culminating in a cliff-hanger climax.

The production boasted a large and highly talented and accomplished cast and crew from San Francisco, Los Angeles and New York. Sam Chase was the master cinematographer on the set, visiting from New York. Cast members included distinguished Los Angeles actorsM.J. Karmi and Irena A. Hoffman as the female-leads, and Sita Young, P. David Miller, Nate Reese and Ann-Marie Jolly featured in major supporting-roles.

The esteemed San Francisco actor & director Warren David Keith was cast as the male-lead who also teaches one of our “Advanced Film Acting” Classes at FilmschoolSF.  Two of our other Film Acting Faculty, Celia Shuman and Brian D. Scott also had supporting roles in the movie.

Twenty-two of our own Acting Students at FilmschoolSF were among the cast members of “Moonlight Sonata” ( all speaking-parts ). Several of the 22 were major supporting-roles that took many days to shoot. Here are all their names, in no particular order:

Taren Howes, Edith Reiner, Maggie Grant, Kay Ewing, Aimee McCrary, Jinnifer Jacobs, Goldie Chan, Joan Laqui, Hueiyen Tsai, Ashley Allen, Katrina Gimenez, June Barnard, Sarah Leight, Daniel Will-Harris, Micci Toliver, Tony Williams, Marshell Harwell, Roy Hylton, Vincent Leddy, Brendan Sweeney, Nate Duncan and Johann Schiffer.

A few of our Acting Students had non-speaking parts: Chris Leidecker, Mauro Pivi, Michelle Grey, Dawn Green ( Eli Kramer: his scenes are still to be shot ). In the pickup scenes we plan to shoot soon, another four small roles will be cast among our own Acting Students, as well.

Sam Chase, Director of Photography on FilmschoolSF’s 3rd Feature Film “Moonlight Sonate” delivers one last weepy thanks and farewell

Hey Everybody,
I just wanted to deliver one last weepy  thanks and farewell. I had a great time and having spent the last two days getting caught up on dailies I was floored by the quality of our footage. I think it was a worthwhile and challenging experience for us all.

For the pros Moonlight Sonata was a chance to remember that filmmaking doesn’t always need to be a money-driven cutthroat world and for the students it was an unmatchable opportunity to get a genuine feel for what it’s like to work in the business – not parking crew cars (that was my first job in the biz) or fetching coffee,  but as a propping, camera assisting or editing.

Several of you even walked away with marketable skills and/or even jobs. Pretty cool. It was a great chance for us all  to learn as well as improvise. Watching the footage from scenes we shot in the woods I was struck by the beauty of a gentle  mist floating through the dappled light and thought “how lucky I was to get  a misty day”… then I remembered Heather chicken-scratching the dusty trail to get that effect. What we lacked in resources we made up in heart and you all had that in spades.

I couldn’t have been more impressed with each and every one of you – you’re professionalism and your dedication blew me away. I wish you all the greatest success in your work and your lives and encourage you to keep at whatever it is that fills your dreams. Stay in touch and keep smiling.

All The Best
Sam Chase