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June 10, 2010

CCNY Theatre Professor Makes Cinematic Directing Debut

 Willinger Film Debut

 Kiki Warren (left) and Sparks Grassley in a scene from CCNY Theatre Professor David Willinger's feature film "Lunatics, Lovers and Actors." 

David Willinger’s “Lunatics, Lovers and Actors” Shot on Campus with Many Students in Cast

Dr. David Willinger, stage director, playwright and Professor in the Department of Theatre and Speech at The City College of New York (CCNY), is making his cinematic directorial debut. His first film, “Lunatics, Lovers and Actors,” will make its world premiere Tuesday, June 22, at the New Hope Film Festival in New Hope, PA.
 
The film was shot on location at CCNY and in adjoining St. Nicholas Park. Many CCNY students have roles in the production.

The film is a socio-political satire about an imaginative drama professor who uses a topical approach to teach William Shakespeare’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” by changing the play’s setting from its original setting in Athens to modern Kuwait. In the original play, a group of young Athenians escape into a forest and through their encounters with the forest’s fairies chaos ensues resulting in mistaken, lost and converged individual identities. In the film, the fictional professor fills his cast with identified opposites: Muslims, fundamentalist Christians, out gays, and homophobes. Then he brings his diverse cadre of students into the forest, which was shot in St. Nicholas Park, to continue rehearsing.

Once in the forest, mystical forces intervene, and the students are confronted with their own polarized realities; the identities they constructed for themselves and projected onto others. As in Shakespeare’s original, their long held beliefs about others – i.e. their prejudices – begin to dissolve, generating a breakdown of preconceived opposites. Amidst this quagmire, a fundamentalist Christian falls in love with a Muslim, and a homophobe is attracted to a gay man.

“This is a film about intolerance,” says Professor Willinger. “Why does a Muslim look at a Jew and see an enemy? Why do we see an Arab as a terrorist? People fix roles onto themselves and onto others making them opposites. When the students go into the park, a new, truer reality emerges from the mayhem and chaos. You love what you thought you hated.”
 
Born on New York’s Upper West Side, Professor Willinger has been involved in theater since he was 10-years-old, but he had always wanted to make a movie. The idea for the film originated one afternoon while he was looking out the picture window in the Theatre Office in Compton-Goethals Hall.

“I saw the students moving, their coming and going, and it was almost choreography,” he said. The idea for the film was also influenced by an incident on campus in the 1990s in which a gay student was viciously attacked by another student because of his sexual orientation.
 
An alumnus of Lehman College and the CUNY Graduate Center, and a professor at City College for 30 years, Professor Willinger saw the rich diversity of City College as the ideal location for his film. “I am here every day of my life in this place that has wonderful cinematic potential. Why would I go anywhere else?” he said.

He also had the great benefit of participation from the energetic, enthusiastic and talented City College student body. Of a cast of 60, half were CCNY students.

Although he filmed at City College and the film depicts intolerance and explosive violence, Professor Willinger observed an irony: “For an urban campus in one of the largest, most diverse cities in the world, City College has surprisingly little ethnic, racial, and political conflict on campus. It’s like a ‘Garden of Eden.’ A very pleasant place to be.”

While he is making his cinematic directing debut, Professor Willinger has prior film experience. He was the co-scenarist and casting director for “Take the Bridge,”  by Sergio Castilla, which premiered at last year’s Tribeca Film Festival.

In addition, he has over 60 credits as a playwright and/or director and he is the recipient of Jerome Foundation Awards, NEH Grants, a Fulbright and many others awards.

His play “Andrea’s Got Two Boyfriends” premiered at LaMama ETC, and has been performed at theatres across the country, including the Los Angeles Actors Unit and the Julian Theatre in San Francisco. It won a Drama-Logue Award and was published by “Dramatists Play Service.” Other successes include his theatrical adaptation of Carson McCullers’s “The Heart is a Lonely Hunter,” which was reprised several times at Avalon Theatre and Theater for the New City.

More on the Internet:
CCNY Department of Theatre and Speech
Lunatics, Lovers and Actors website
New Hope Film Festival
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