A nation struggles under its vainglorious leader, whose obsession with family values masks his ineptitude and insecurity. Fed up, citizens push back using everything from parody to outright rebellion. It could be the United States in 2020 AD … but in ‘Ovid and the Art of Love’, it’s also Rome in 31 BCE. Winner for Best Director Esmé von Hoffman at Festival of Cinema NYC 2019, ‘Ovid and the Art of Love’ will be released via Level 33 Entertainment on May 19 on all major streaming and VOD platforms including Amazon, iTunes, Youtube and more.
Set centuries apart but in the same place, ‘Ovid and the Art of Love’ tells the story of the renowned Roman poet Ovid, whose comic verses and permissive lifestyle provoked the brutal Emperor Augustus’s ire. As Ovid and the emperor’s granddaughter – thrown together by fate – race to escape execution, Ovid’s story asks: In a world of unrest, is love the most radical act of all? Bringing together togas, high-tops, oration, poetry slams and hip-hop, this film tells a timely story about power, pleasure and politics. Strong women characters clamor for respect and a better place in society. All is set amongst the faded beauty of modern Detroit’s neoclassical architecture.
Corbin Bleu (“High School Musical”) masterfully transforms into the poet Ovid, whose work has been cherished for over 2,000 years, while John Savage (“The Deer Hunter”) gives an electrifying performance as Augustus, Ovid’s conflicted nemesis. Tara Summers (“Mercy Street,” “Boston Legal”) plays Julia, Augustus’s tough, rebellious daughter, and Tamara Feldman (“Gossip Girl,” “Hatchet”) is the emperor’s activist granddaughter. Also starring Joseph McKenna (“Shutter Island,” “12 Monkeys”) and Lailani Ledesma (Comedy Central’s “Detroiters”).
‘Ovid and the Art of Love’ was filmed entirely on location and in America’s now-challenged, former automobile-capital of Detroit – without the use of any sets – working with mainly local cast and crew (including cinematographer Geoff George), giving the film a unique visual look. The soundtrack features works of Detroit artists from the Motown era (including a track from Ronnie McNeir of The Four Tops) to contemporary Detroit electronica, acoustic, hip-hop and more. These artists – like Ovid many centuries before them – work every day to better their communities and bring them light and life. The production also collaborated with many local community groups and nonprofit organizations to support the distressed city in the making of the film.
American-German director Esmé says it was her fascination with the ancient Roman poet Ovid and her background working in theater on productions where modern takes on classical stories were brought to the stage which helped spark the idea to write this film initially.
“I’d long loved the story of Ovid. As a ninth-grader in a diverse urban high school, I first fell in love with the subversive poet-hero. In fact, all my classmates did, regardless of our ethnic origins or what country our parents came from. We admired his ingenuity to undermine authoritarianism, and we laughed at his wit,” she said in a press release.
“Inspired by this memory, I thought it would be fun and timely to update Ovid’s story. I started by making a short film. I was blown away by how much people of all backgrounds saw and loved in this short film, full of togas and sneakers, and how relevant and relatable Ovid’s story was. That pushed me to make the feature. I’d also been reading Joseph Campbell’s ‘Hero with a Thousand Faces’ and was fascinated by the idea that rudimentary elements of a story can move and inspire us across time and cultures. Ovid’s exceptional story is a perfect example.”
The film has the unique ability to transport audiences through multiple eras, while also being very relatable with its overarching themes and characters. And given we are smack bang in the middle of a US Presidential election year, coupled with all that is happening around COVID-19, ‘Ovid and the Art of Love’ is easily the right pick to help you pass the time in quarantine right now. Esmé says this multi-layered film has a great deal to teach us about our own society.
“Ovid’s story resonates universally – growing up, moving to a big city, discovering adventure and romance – and his clashes with the repressive emperor have political relevance today. As I developed the film with the people of Detroit, I was struck by how they saw many parallels between their situation and Ovid’s. They talked about how Detroit had recently lost its democracy when an emergency manager was in charge,” she said.
“I also want to help introduce the world to some of the vibrant Detroit grassroots arts-scene, which I was fortunate to work with. Like Ovid’s Rome, modern Detroit has blight, unemployment, and hunger, yet it has maintained great resilience and hope through all this adversity. While reflecting some of the difficulties the city has seen, the film sheds light on the unique art and revitalization efforts going on in the city. Most narrative films about Detroit do not focus on the positive. I hope to capture Detroit at a crucial juncture in its history,” she added.
It’s also a reminder that the voice of even one person daring to take a stand can make a difference in monumental ways. We can relate to this kind of activism which clearly was present in the ancient world and still rings true today (the 2017 Women’s March and the 2018 mid-term elections, anyone?).
“Ovid’s narrative follows a young person who finds his artistic voice and the real meaning of love. Yet it is also an empowering tale of an average citizen who stands up to an intimidating, authoritarian and hypocritical leader when no one else dares to. I hope that viewing Ovid’s tale through this lively lens helps us reflect on what is happening in the world today and consider what we can do to affect positive change,” said Esme.
Mark May 19 in your calendars for the release of ‘Ovid and the Art of Love’, and catch it on your fave VOD platform.