Smile Politely

Filming relationships: A conversation with Jonah Koslofsky

Dark purple photograph with two women in the center, one is wearing a bold red and white striped shirt and beanie and the other wears a smaller striped red and white shirt. The words "after party: a film by Jonah Koslofsky" are on the bottom.
After Party on Instagram

Early in After Party, the new short film written and directed by Urbana native Jonah Koslofsky, we encounter Ben and Ellie preparing for a Halloween party in Chicago in 2021. The party invokes memories of the moment we began to emerge from the first long year of COVID. We had questions. We wanted relationships; we missed people and parties. 

Koslofsky, together with producer Kat Williams (recent University of Illinois College of Media grad), will be on hand this week as their short film, After Party, screens ahead of Céline Sciamma’s critically acclaimed Portrait of a Lady on Fire (Swank Motion Pictures, 2019), one of the offerings from this year’s Roger Ebert Fellows

In his director’s statement, Koslofsky notes that the film is “if it’s not too corny to say, for romantics…or anyone with a passing interest in young people…or for people exploring confusion…or if you have 21 minutes and like talky, naturalistic comedies.” The film is precisely that — a conversational comedy with heart and curiosity. As its title suggests, it’s the question of what happens after the party, especially for Ellie and Olivia, that provides the central raison d’être. Where, in fact, will these two romantics wind up? The film invites the audience to explore what may come of the budding relationship. 

Photo of a white man with glasses wearing a blue and white striped shirt and jeans in a room with bookshelves and two people in the background. The text reads: meet the crew, Jonah Koslofsky
Jonah Koslofsky on Instagram

Ahead of this week’s screening, I had a chance to ask Koslofsky a few questions about the film and his work. 

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Smile Politely: Tell me a bit about your background and how you got interested in filmmaking.

Jonah Koslofsky: I live in Chicago now, but I’m from Urbana and went to University High School. I studied English and Film at Brandeis University. In school, I wrote a lot of criticism, but as I approached graduation, I realized I wanted to be a filmmaker. 

SP: How did this project evolve?

Koslofsky: I reconnected with another friend from Uni, Ella Lubienski, and we made a short film called In You, I’m Lost. I wrote and directed it, and Ella was the cinematographer. It was a great experience (and the movie isn’t half bad). I knew that I wanted to work with Ella again, and in the fall of 2022, I started putting together the pieces that would become After Party. I reconnected with Kat Williams, another Uni grad, around the same time. Kat had recently graduated from UIUC’s College of Media. That’s how we were able to put this screening together. Champaign-Urbana is the core DNA for this project even though it was filmed in Chicago.

SP: As an artist, what draws you to the short film format?

Koslofsky: The short film is — dare I say — underrated. It’s a wonderful way to use all of the tools of cinema to efficiently and quickly tell a story. 

Photo of a white actress with long hair and glasses on a computer screen. Two other people are in the frame with computers editing the screen.
After Party on Instagram

SP: Can you say something about the role of relationships central to the stories you’re telling in your films?

Koslofsky: I’m drawn to stories about relationships for a lot of reasons. Is there a better subject? A lot of the movies that I really love are about relationships. I don’t have as much life experience, and much of it has been quite nice and comfortable (thanks, C-U). Most of the dramatic moments in my life have revolved around a romantic relationship in some form or another. I believe in cinema as a means of exploring how people interact with each other, so I’m interested in trying to capture moments that are totally ordinary and yet also, in terms of story, dramatic. 

Richard Linklater once told Ethan Hawke, “My life feels very exciting to me and I’ve never been involved in a chase or a gun shootout. My life is exciting to me. And what’s the most exciting thing that’s ever happened to me? Connecting with another human being…If we can put that on screen I think people will care.” I’m very much of this school of thought. Also, being a filmmaker that’s just starting out and who doesn’t have access to massive resources, filming with just an actor or two is one of the best ways to tell a story. Seeing a range of different emotions flash across an actor’s face is better than any computer generated effect — and I like stories about relationships that serve as a backdrop for genuine performances. 

SP: Say a bit more about the characters in After Party. 

Koslofsky: Exploring the different pairings in After Party was certainly a challenge, but that was also sort of the point. While writing, I mapped out how all of these characters fit together and what they’re meant to communicate about gender and desire, etc. But once we actually got to set, it was way more important that everyone felt comfortable and confident. I think I loosened up a bit as well. Obviously this was always supposed to be a pretty light and funny movie, but I found that we were more effective at exploring these dynamics when we were letting ourselves have fun.

SP: Because I’m a nerdy English teacher myself, who were the teachers from Uni High that mentored you and helped you find your creative path? 

Koslofsky: I can’t praise my Uni teachers enough! Certainly our drama teacher Chris Guyotte — Ella, Kat and I all got to know each other through his theater program. Also, my English teachers Ms. Majerus, Mr. Mitchell, and Suzanne Linder were very encouraging and inspiring. Really everyone in the Uni humanities department! 

SP: Finally, what can audiences expect at the screening this week?

Koslofsky: I’m extremely jazzed that we’re playing before Portrait of a Lady on Fire. I’m a big fan of that movie (and Céline Sciamma’s work in general), and it’s a huge honor to be programmed alongside such an exceptional piece of cinema. Both Portrait and After Party are movies about two women romantically reaching out to each other against the backdrop of a messed-up world. My film is set in October 2021 during a weird lull in COVID, as folks were trying to relearn how to interact with each other (or at least, I was). More broadly, After Party is about awkward 20-somethings fumbling into each other at a Halloween party. I hope audiences will come to the screening and enjoy these complicated and fascinating stories.

After Party
Knight Auditorium at the Spurlock Museum
600 S Gregory
Th Apr 4th, 7 p.m.
Free and open to the public

Arts Editor at Smile Politely

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