Hero Film Festival Spotlight: The Elephant in the Room

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Hero Film Festival and Awards, which shines a spotlight on depictions of  heroism in film, is currently in its first quarterly cycle. Selected films for this first edition of the festival will be announced in September.

Meanwhile, we would like to spotlight one of the submitted films and its filmmakers. Our own Nicholas Crawford (NC) sat down with Niko Vitacco, (NV) and Tamir Gedalia, (TG) of Absolution Films‘ project “The Elephant in the Room.”

The Elephant in the Room – Official Trailer #2 | © Absolution Films | Used with permission.

Introducing The Elephant In The Room

Film poster for "The Elephant in the Room" | © Absolution Films | Used with permission.
Film poster for The Elephant in the Room | © Absolution Films | Used with permission.

The Elephant in the Room focuses on the experiences of a comical male nurse who treats terminally ill patients in an unconventional manner. In the film, the lead character is challenged by a tough patient living his final days.

The film’s writer Bonnie Freeman, a nurse practitioner of a palliative care team, based the story on her real-life experiences. She sought to use her passion to improve the quality of life for terminally ill patients and how our society treats them.

Bonnie tragically passed away just months before the film’s completion. It is now the mission of the team to spread her message and honor her legacy.

I had the pleasure of a briefly interviewing the film’s producer, Tamir Gedalia, and the film’s star and co-producer, Niko Vitacco.

Tamir Gedalia

Just a few years ago, Gedalia left a job as an accountant in Israel to become an entertainment producer in Los Angeles. He is the founder of Absolution Films, a fledgling filmmaking, commercial and music video production company.

Tamir Gedalia of Absolution Films | © Absolution Films | Used with permission.
Tamir Gedalia of Absolution Films | © Absolution Films | Used with permission.

NC: This is an independent movie with some impressive production value,  can you talk about how you were able to secure locations and actors? 

TG: My main goal from the first moment of pre-production was to make a low budget film look like it cost a few million dollars. So I’m happy that people I talk with, who have only watched the trailer so far, can already feel the production value of the film.

One thing I learned is that when you do a low budget indie, you can’t solve problems with just money, like with some well-financed projects. So the only thing that can save you is magic. And by magic, I mean personal connections, networking, talking your way through things and knowing what the other side may want [aside from]money so that you can give it to them.

I also utilized our good cause to secure certain needs for the film. From the moment we secured the main location of the film — a hospital building, mostly thanks to Bonnie Freeman — I knew we would have a film.

When we dealt with casting, most of the challenges were not financial but instead knowing how to properly vet the auditions in order to get the best fit for the character. Again, we couldn’t offer a lot of money. So we mainly offered the opportunity to have a significant role in a feature film. From my experience in producing short films and local commercials, I knew the importance of this to an [as-yet unknown] actor.

NC: How often did you interact with real-life hospital personnel during this project, whether it be for research, or just from shooting in a hospital? What was their impact on you?

TG: When we shot in the hospital, the reaction of the medical crew was unbelievably supportive. Even more supportive were the patients. You have patients there, most of whom are terminally ill. They don’t have those kinds of moments in their lives.

Sometimes it seemed like they were waiting for this excitement, an adventure. Something similar happened with the nurses and even doctors. Many volunteered to serve as extras, some even with speaking roles.

From the other side, we had moments that patients and hospital employees struggled to collaborate. However, we still showed them our appreciation and gratefulness for even letting us bother them with our presence. I think the passion of the film crew and cast made the patients and hospital employees feel more comfortable.

NC: What can the audience expect to take away from a film like this?

TG: I think that the most important thing to take from this film is that we can deal with death in a better way. It’s not only about keeping terminally ill people alive as long as we can with medication but about their last journey and the love they get from us before they pass away.  And it’s a message not only for dealing with the terminally ill but for the way we deal with other things in life. For example, it’s not about how much money you have, but the way you live your life, your relationships, and your family.

Screenshot from "The Elephant in the Room" | © Absolution Films | Used with permission.
Screenshot from The Elephant in the Room | © Absolution Films | Used with permission.

NC: Independent projects are never easy to see through to completion. What was the biggest hurdle for you throughout production?

TG: I will tell you a secret. We started the production without having the budget to finish it, but only enough to get through production. I remember saying to myself that there was no way we were going to be like so many other features that weren’t finished.

From the other side, I knew that nowadays the competition in the production world is so big, that you can always somehow finish the production. The only question becomes the quality of it. When we finished the production, we started a Kickstarter campaign that was successful even though it didn’t give us enough funds to have high-level post-production.

While doing the campaign, we were always looking for additional funds. Eventually, we found that funding through the head of a palliative care department and good friends of Bonnie Freeman’s, Dr. William Dale and his wife Tamra Dale. They later became our Executive Producers.

After gaining the funds to finish the film and in understanding how competitive the post-production industry is — from editors to composers to colorists — we went for the best we could get. We enlisted the amazing three-time Emmy Award-winning editor, David C. Eichhorn. We also gained a talented composer who just finished work on an HBO feature “My Dinner With Herve,” David Norland. But the most important thing to us in choosing the post-production crew was whether or not they had a passion for the story and the message.

Tamir Gedalia of Absolution Films | © Absolution Films | Used with permission.
Tamir Gedalia of Absolution Films | © Absolution Films | Used with permission.

NC: What does this film mean to you?

TG: The film changed me in so many ways. It is my first feature film. I couldn’t believe that my first feature would be based on true events with such a strong message. It made me realize how much I like to deal with those real stories of people’s lives. We need more real-life stories that affect the way we live our lives and treat other people.

NC: What made you think the Hero Film Festival would be a good fit for your film?

TG: Sometimes we forget what the medical teams are sacrificing for us. The things that they deal with are incredibly tough and you can see that in the film.

Niko Vitacco and Tamir Gedalia | © Absolution Films | Used with permission.
Niko Vitacco and Tamir Gedalia | © Absolution Films | Used with permission.

Niko Vitacco

Vitacco has lived in Los Angeles for about 13 years, where he has pursued a career in acting. He has worked in sketch and improv comedy, short films and commercials. The Elephant in the Room is his first lead role and co-producer credit.

Niko Vitacco | © Absolution Films | Used with permission.
Niko Vitacco | © Absolution Films | Used with permission.

NC: Please talk about your character in the film.

NV: I play the role of Michael Lafata, a nurse practitioner specializing in pain management. Michael is the unofficial “leader” of a palliative care team, and he addresses his patients in a most unconventional way. Michael shows his team and his patients that death doesn’t have to be a cold, dark, and isolating experience. While Michael’s offbeat and outlandish approach to his work can sometimes be exasperating to his coworkers, the team always comes together in a supportive, loving, and selfless way. They serve to remind each other that they cannot change their patients’ outcomes but they can positively affect their journey.

Screenshot from "The Elephant in the Room" | © Absolution Films | Used with permission.
Screenshot from The Elephant in the Room | © Absolution Films | Used with permission.

NC: How often did you interact with real-life hospital personnel during this project, whether it be for research, or just from shooting in a hospital? What was their impact on you?

NV: All the time! This film was written by Bonnie Freeman, a nurse practitioner, and it was based on her real-life experiences and interactions with patients. Bonnie was on set every day sharing her knowledge and teaching us so many different things — whether it be how to hold a stethoscope differently for an adult versus a child, how to properly deliver doses of pain medication or explaining how to pronounce certain medical terms when dictating a chart note — and even different ways to approach a patient. She wanted to ensure we stayed true to her profession and the people who work in health care.

The female lead — Valerie Howard, who is the social worker of the team — was played by Rupinder Sidhu, a real-life social worker in the hospital where we filmed. Talk about authenticity! She was truly amazing [in the film]and is a force to be reckoned with.

The impact of both of these women, the real medical professionals who performed on screen and even the real hospital patients we interacted with was humbling.

Screenshot from "The Elephant in the Room" | © Absolution Films | Used with permission.
Screenshot from The Elephant in the Room | © Absolution Films | Used with permission.

NC: Independent projects are never easy to see through to completion. What was the biggest hurdle for you throughout production?

NV: I think our biggest hurdle was finding and securing the funds for post-production. We had initial funding from Bonnie and her husband Allen Freeman, the Director. [So we could] start production and principal photography. [But] we needed to find more funds once we wrapped.

Fortunately, a colleague of Bonnie’s took an interest in her story and became a big fan of our production. He also happened to be from my home [region], and a fellow “Southsider” from Chicago. This is what I like to think secured the deal. Ha! 

William Dale is the Department Head of the Supportive Care Team at the hospital [where]we filmed. He and his wife Tamra jumped on board as our Executive Producers and became a part of our journey.

NC: What can the audience expect to take away from a film like this?

NV: My hope is that it will be easier for people to address the feared and often avoided discussion of death. No one wants to think or talk about it, but for everyone, death is inevitable. Our film shows that it’s OK to open up about it and celebrate life. Bonnie always said, “It’s all about the journey.”

Screenshot from "The Elephant in the Room" | © Absolution Films | Used with permission.
Screenshot from The Elephant in the Room | © Absolution Films | Used with permission.

NC: Why is this film a good fit for Hero Film Festival & Awards?

NV: We thought the Hero Film Festival would be a great platform to highlight some overlooked, everyday heroes. The compassion, selflessness, and resilience that palliative care professionals have for their patients, the families, and each other is admirable.

Bonnie Freeman said “I realized many healthcare providers did not know what we provided and the community was even less informed. I felt a film would reach a broader audience and could be a tool to promote discussions about effective ways to communicate, [show]the need for compassion and show the difference a dedicated palliative care team can make in the lives of patients and their families.

Stay tuned for more spotlights from Hero Film Festival & Awards and submit your film today!

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About Author

Nicholas is an all-around great guy and one of the nicest people you will ever meet. With his positive nature he inspires others forward to their goals. He is a graduate of Old Dominion University’s award winning film program where he served as editor for many of the department’s faculty/student co-productions. Independently, his work has been showcased in festivals all over the United States, Europe and Asia. Nicholas is passionate about fiction writing, editing and filmmaking. He recently edited, captured film and championed for Escaping Fed, a feature-length documentary film also by Roulez. He also currently serves as the Creative Director, Filmographer and Film Editor for Roulez Media.

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