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Director Ike Barinholtz holds Q&A after “The Oath” screening

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Director Ike Barinholtz holds Q&A after “The Oath” screening

Dominick Dusseault

Dominick Dusseault

Dominick Dusseault

Sully Barrett

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Spoilers for “The Oath:”

Writer and director Ike Barinholtz made an appearance at Loews Theater in Boston Thursday for a Q&A following a pre-release screening of his new political comedy “The Oath.”

The film finds a family’s Thanksgiving celebration heating up after the President requires citizens to sign a loyalty oath to him. As Chris (Barinholtz) and his wife Kai (Tiffany Haddish) prepare for a polite, argument-free holiday with Chris’s family, the deadline to sign the oath is set for the day after Thanksgiving, stirring up debate around the dinner table.

Through outrageous quarrels, shocking betrayals and a slew of name-calling, the night turns bloody with the arrival of two government agents who will stop at nothing to apprehend those who refuse to sign the oath.

“The Oath” unashamedly satirizes the awkwardness of family gatherings, yet the scenes stand out among other films with the same family premise. Although falling short at times, the film’s jokes provide much-needed breaks from intense dramatic action, keeping a steady balance between darkness and satire.

The cast – featuring Tiffany Haddish, John Cho and Billy Magnussen – demonstrates captivating performances in both the film’s dramatic and comedic areas. Barinholtz, in addition to playing Chris, weaves his artistic style into the pace and flow of each scene.

Barinholtz got his start in comedy by taking improv classes and performing stand-up in Chicago. Although he directed episodes for the TV show “The Mindy Project,” this was his first time directing a feature film.

Independent Film Festival Boston, or IFFBoston, hosted the event as part of a screening series which included films such as “The Sisters Brothers” and “Mid90s.” The series offered free admission to the public, with IFFBoston providing printable tickets online.

After the screening, IFFBoston’s executive director Brian Tamm introduced Barinholtz to the stage to answer questions from the excited audience. Unsurprisingly, several hands flew into the air.

When asked about the extent of his creative control, Barinholtz praised the film’s producers.

“I had quite a bit. I was very lucky to get set up with QC Entertainment,” Barinholtz said. “They read the movie and right away were like ‘We would love to make this movie. It’s the type of story we want to tell.’”

QC Entertainment has produced films such as “Get Out” and “BlacKkKlansman,” two critically-acclaimed dramas that focus on racism and social issues.

“They knew I had not made a movie before,” Barinholtz said, “and they were really great at knowing when to push and when to pull.”

However, the director explained that the ending was a point of discussion among the crew. The film’s main character Chris was originally meant to find out who betrayed him without revealing their identity to the audience. The producers, Barinholtz said, wanted to know who it was.

As they were shooting the scene, something unexpected happened. Barinholtz realized that Chris should ultimately decide not to learn who betrayed him, instead choosing to forgive and forget. As he started to explain his thoughts, Sean McKittrick, a producer, came running over with the exact same idea.

“It was this perfect, organic moment,” Barinholtz said, “and I think because they trusted me so much, and I really trusted them, I don’t think we would’ve gotten to that moment otherwise.”

The director also talked about writing the protagonist basing the character’s obsession with news on his own behavior. He explained that news and media coverage took a toll on his mood for a year before the 2016 presidential election.

Barinholtz emphasized the importance of using those sources of information to “effect change that you want,” whether on a personal or community level. Regarding the political discussions in the movie, the writer encourages people to participate in respectful discourse.

“If we start living in a totally apolitical society, I think that’s kind of burying our heads in the sand,” Barinholtz said, “and I don’t think that’s the right solution either.”

The film’s arguments, full of obscenity and verbal assault, reveal the prevalence of disrespect in modern political discussion – especially, as the director noted, within families.

“I definitely don’t think that we should say, ‘Okay, we’re not going to talk politics,’” Barinholtz continued. “I think civility is important. If you’re able to have a rational conversation with your uncle that you totally don’t agree with, try it.”

“The Oath” releases in select theaters October 12th, 2018.

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