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Monday, Aug. 13, 2018

PURE DECADENCE

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Shreveport-Bossier City recently provided the backdrop for a wonderful independent film set in the cobwebs of time. The cast and crew of “Decadence,” directed and written by Gio March, is hoping to see it debut sometime this fall.

“Decadence” is set in 1958 Hollywood and tells the story of Lorna Duvall, an oldtime silver-screen actress who has been struggling as she ages to find the lead roles that once made her famous. Lorna is also mentally ill and living in her own little bigscreen world. She still awaits the return of her husband who went missing in a plane crash 30 years earlier.

Gio March not only directed “Decadence,” but also wrote the screenplay and appeared in the film. “I knew I wanted my next film to be a period piece,” March said. “I've always loved the films from the '40s and '50s. I was reading an article once about a famous old-time actress who was revealing secrets from old Hollywood. Apparently, young, promising actresses from the '30s, '40s and '50s were forced by the studios to secretly get abortions in order to continue with their successful careers. The studio would pay for all of the expenses and later would get the money back from the actress’s next film salary. Personally, I was mesmerized by what I was reading and immediately said to myself, ‘Here it is. This will be the essence of my next script.’”

March is originally from Barcelona, Spain, but ended up in Shreveport when his partner’s mother became widowed and they wanted to be close by. “I am so honored to be part of the Shreveport film community,” March said. “We have so many great local artists here, including Bruce Campbell, whose art is featured in ‘Decadence.’” “Decadence” is a neo-noir mystery full of suspense that pays homage to Alfred Hitchcock’s films. “Lorna Duvall is the main character, and the whole story is evolving around her,” March said. “The actress who plays this role is the local Centenary College drama teacher, Jodie Glorioso. When I met Jodie a few years back, I remember thinking, ‘Wow, this woman has a great physique, a gorgeous face and what a great screen presence she could have.’ I knew then she would be featured in one of my films. Later, when I found out that she was actually an actress, I was so thrilled. I wrote “Decadence” and Lorna Duvall's character with Jodie in mind. Obviously, she nailed it.”

Jodie Glorioso said she wanted to work with March because of the script and the nostalgia of the period. “The character lives to protect her image, and she presents herself always protecting those appearances,” she said. “Staying in character making the environment work … it was so much a part of making it all work for my character.”

March selected other strong, multi-disciplined women for the film. “Susan Duke, a great talented artist friend, plays the role of Mrs. Donovan, a.k.a. Nora Rogers, a rival of Lorna's on the screen and a jealous former actress.”

“I play a thoroughly unlikable, jealous and manipulative, wealthy woman,” Duke said. “The part intrigued me because her core characteristics are so distinctly opposed and far from mine. It is a fascinating story about human interactions and how they can result in unexpected outcomes. The characters grapple with major life issues: choices, ego, power, jealousy, pride, complicity, manipulation, curiosity, dependency and consequences.” Duke first met March at an art show while she was being treated for cancer. “Chemo had made all my hair fall out,” she remembered. “As usual, I wrapped my head in a tignon, which imparted a sort of dramatic persona.”

That points to one of the reasons both actresses loved working with March. Even entrenched in a world of make-believe day in and day out, he seems to understand that he’s dealing first and foremost with real people. “Gio is the most wonderful director imaginable,” Duke said. “He’s focused, creative and fun to work with. At the time of filming my part, I was very sick with cancer and pneumonia. Gio was so kind and patient, doing as many takes as necessary. He coached me and improvised ways for me to perform my part until it was something we both could be proud of.”

Glorioso agreed, saying, “I was amazed at the gifts of our cast, the technical crew and the many talents of our director from casting to makeup to wardrobe. He did it all.”

March laughed and said, “The challenges are always the same because I am very particular with everything involving my films. I like to do as much as I can myself, from finding locations, hair, makeup, costumes, acting, directing, even cooking for the whole crew. I always run like a chicken with its head cut off. Other than that, we didn't have any problems whatsoever. We were lucky; most of the time that is not the case. I guess I had all the stars aligned for this film. If we make it to the Louisiana Film Prize 2018, then it will be a dream come true.”

Surely with all this talk of turbans and a character named “Nora” and manic, aging film actresses, there would be at least some connection to the character Norma Desmond from the movie “Sunset Boulevard,” or even her parody from “The Carol Burnett Show,” Nora Desmond. Not exactly. “The film is not based on Norma Desmond,” March said. “However, there are similarities with her character from the film ‘Sunset Boulevard.’ Just place yourself in the life of the female character, a desperate woman who once had everything: success, fame, money, health and a husband, and now the only thing she has is a hush, hush secret.”

“Her character is like Norma Desmond but with some of her personal choices unique to this story,” Glorioso added. “The film is about an aging actress who lives in seclusion and with the delusions of her life. I think it will speak to audiences that the #metoo movement has many long back- stories.” March couldn’t leave without kudos to the other actresses in the film. “My other great addition to the cast is the local theater actress Ginger Folmer,” March said. “Ginger is also superb in her role as Vivian, Lorna's loyal and protective housekeeper. Anne Nichols Brown, a talented actress, plays the role of Carla Mansfield, the young reporter in charge of writing a story about Lorna.”

March demonstrates his own versatility as an actor by playing three characters in the film. “One of them is Roy Campanelli, Lorna's missing husband,” he said. “Roy only appears in the film in a photo. Another character I play is Johnny Lombardo, a photographer from a local newspaper. To avoid any spoiler alerts, I can't comment on my third character.”

As for the setting, Shreveport’s frozenin-time historic neighborhoods are the perfect backdrop in this movie. “In the film, we used the facade of the old Haynes Gym at Centenary College,” March said. “We also used the interior lobby of the Mid-City Hotel near downtown, but I was so excited to film inside the Austen Place Mansion (a.k.a. The Florentine). This beautiful Victorian building was the perfect set for Lorna's home, although for the exterior we used another beautiful home located on Fairfield Avenue. After talking to Debbie Bryant, the current owner, I got chills when she mentioned to me that Bette Davis visited the mansion back in the day when it was still a nightclub. That's when I knew I've got the right location!” Although one of the rules of the Louisiana Film Prize is that entries need to be shot here in the area, March was thrilled to work in Shreveport again. “Shreveport has great locations that transform the city into a New York or Los Angeles film scene,” he said. “You just need to look for them.”

Now that it’s a wrap, there’s a bright sense of excitement for the release, tempered with the melancholy that the shooting is over. “My personal favorite memory is when I watched all of my actors on camera after a long day shooting, and I realized that all of the hard work was immediately paying off,” March said. “The film was already looking amazing, and I was so blessed to have found this amazing crew and actors to join forces with me and make this little jewel of a film come true.”

If "Decadence" is accepted in Louisiana Film Prize's (LAFP) line-up, it will release in October 2018 at the festival. If not, the film will be presented to other festivals and may be released in 2019.

“I just want to thank the LAFP and Gregory Kallenberg for this great idea of creating the best film festival in the world and for giving me the opportunity of writing and making films for this growing community,” March said. “I would have never imagined living this moment when I was a little kid who watched all these amazing Hitchcock films on my little black-and-white TV. And to all of the kids who have all these dreams, never give up because dreams do come true.”

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