Celebrating Southern filmmakers: Flicks for thought
By Christi Marsico • Staff Writer
Spotlighting filmmakers from Georgia, Louisiana and Florida, Haywood County Arts Council presents the 2nd annual Short Circuit Traveling Film Festival on March 14 at Haywood Community College.
Short Circuit is the only festival of its kind featuring 12 innovative short films in three hours. Chosen for their artistic merit, the film selections range from fiction to animation to experimental and documentary. Some of the films contain adult language, material and violence.
Southern filmmaker’s insights
From the future of filmmaking to the storyline conception of their pieces, four directors from three of the films featured in the Short Circuit shared insight on their journey with The Smoky Mountain News.
“I Always Do My Collars First: A Film About Ironing” was directed by Conni Castille and Allison Bohl of Breaux Bridge, La.
This short documentary follows four Cajun women in Southwestern Louisiana who through their daily routines show how ironing is part of their social identity.
SMN: How did you come up with idea for this film?
Castille: During grad school studying folklore, I researched and wrote a paper on the subject. The visual richness of the stories, and the personality of the women cried out for documentary, despite the fact that I had never done one. The medium is ideal for many folkloristic topics, so I really wanted to learn how to do that. Moreover, the medium allows the folks in the film to watch themselves being celebrated. Not knowing anything about cameras, I was lucky enough to have met Allison Bohl who was in undergrad studies in Visual Arts at the same university, University of Louisiana at Lafayette.
Bohl: Conni came up with the idea for the film through a Folklore class. She approached me after the fact.
SMN: How long did it take to shoot?
Castille: It took a long time only because we were both students with jobs, for me my studies were part-time, my job full, so we took our time with it. It was not a student project so we had to work on it off hours.
Bohl: It took probably about a year and a half due to the fact that we were both in school at the time.
SMN: What do you want the audience to take away from this film?
Castille: I hope the film dispels notions that ironing, and any housework for that matter, is mundane and trivial.
Bohl: I’d like for audience to feel like they know and understand the women’s point of view in the film—even if they don’t agree with it.
SMN: Were there any difficulties in making this project?
Castille: Not really. My process is to put a lot into pre-production. Before the camera comes out, I’ve gone out to interview many people — audio only — and have done a lot of research. I transcribe all the interviews and select those for the documentary based on their stories. I write a detailed script with B role ideas, and then we return with camera in tow.
Bohl: Conni and I had never made a documentary before. We barely even knew each other. Yet, it amazed us how easy the film was to make. It seemed like everything just fell into place for us from start to finish. Now, we know each other very well and work together daily.
SMN: How has it been to work with the Short Circuit Traveling Film Festival?
Castille: It has been a most pleasant experience. Obviously, they get into great cities that promote the films.
Bohl: It has been a great experience, and we are thankful for the opportunity. I am hoping Conni and I will get to go to one of the premieres in the South.
SMN: Were you surprised by anything while making this film?
Castille: I was impressed by the women’s strong sense of self in this task. How they associate ironing with nurturing. Ironing for the women in this Cajun community is empowering.
Bohl: I never thought I would learn and practice the proper way to iron a shirt, but I did and do.
“Swimming to the Moon” directed by George Thompson from Atlanta is a film about a burned-out rock star who tries to entice a successful journalist. Neither of them knows how to prepare for the impact of someone falling hard ... literally. This film contains adult material.
SMN: How did you come up with the storyline?
Thompson: I had read about the upward trend in suicide rates around the holidays and was intrigued. I mentioned it to a friend who was a psychologist and she said that there was more to it than that, so I started doing some research. Then, I actually dreamt the film one night.
SMN: How long did it take you to write “Swimming to the Moon”?
Thompson: Originally, I began writing it and scrapped it when my “inner critic” decided it was a sucky idea. Then years later I was chatting with some friends, including the two lead actors in the film, and every one responded very positively and encouraged me to finish it. So, about two years from conception through completion.
SMN: What impression did you want the film to make on audiences?
Thompson: You know, I really don’t have any expectations. I just try to tell an engaging story and hope that people are affected. I think that whatever they walk away with adds to the life of the film, and I hope that the film affects them, gives them reason to think, makes them feel something. It’s certainly all about not judging people at a glance and taking things for granted. Not being afraid to step out of your box and reach out.
SMN: Did you have any challenges making this film?
Thompson: The pace and size of the shoot. There were 72 people directly involved in the shoot, which took us to 11 locations in four days. So our pre-production was super-critical. We had to plan everything down to the last detail and then manage the production meticulously while respecting our artists and giving them the space they needed to do their jobs.
SMN: Given a chance to re-shoot the film, would you change anything?
Thompson: Hmmm .... Not really. I try not to go there, because you can make yourself crazy. I like the film and am very proud of what we accomplished. For my first journey into filmmaking as a writer/director/producer I’m really pleased. I learned a lot and the best part is that I had a great time working with everyone on the project. So I wouldn’t want to wish any of that away.
SMN: Where do you see the film industry headed in a decade?
Thompson: Wow! That’s a really big question. A lot of unknowns at the moment, but definite trends. We need to finish the tug-of-war between the unions and then see where Lucas and Spielberg are taking cinema with their huge investment in the new 3D technologies — something they want to become the standard across the board.
Then there’s the whole digital thing. Eventually theaters will be able to access content digitally and project it without a film master which will make the industry much more open to independents. I think it’s hard to say where that’s all going to lead, but I think you can see a trend toward more independence across the board — less control over the industry by producers and unions. But we’ll see.
Directed by Art D‘Alessandro from Maitland, Fla., “The Mess” is about a husband who comes home to find his house in disarray. After exploding into a violent rage, the husband calms down and cleans the house. He then waits to have a serious talk with his wife only to find out a messy house is the least of his worries. This film contains adult language and violence.
SMN: Where did the idea for “The Mess” come from?
D’Alessandro: My wife and I have had small battles over the years regarding leaving things scattered around, etc. ... So, in the “write what you know” vein, I decided to build a story around that setup. Having had some features made as screenwriter, I was looking for something I could direct and control. If it came out crummy, I could take all the blame and say, “Yeah, it’s crummy, but it’s my crummy. No one else stuck their crumminess in.”
SMN: How long did it take you to write “The Mess”?
D’Alessandro: I wrote it over the course of a few days in the summer of ‘07 and continued to revisit it over the next few months.
SMN: How long did it take you to film this project?
D’Alessandro: We filmed it over three long nights in December of ‘07 with cast and crew arriving at 4 p.m. and leaving at 4 a.m., or so, and later on the last day. We also did a few hours of pick-up shots with our lead actor a week later.
SMN: What is the message of your film?
D’Alessandro: What I’ve tried to remind myself throughout the years — you just need to walk away from some things. Let them go. Life’s too short. It’s not worth it. Had Jim (the husband) tuned-in to the bigger picture of what was happening, the outcome would have been much rosier for him. I was asked at a festival forum last year why I chose the ending I did. My reply was that if you don’t take the ending to its extreme, the impact (and its lesson) doesn’t resonate as dramatically. Though I do realize it may be off-putting to some, as a realist I felt compelled to go there.
SMN: Did you have any issues to overcome while making this film?
D’Alessandro: Fortunately, I was able to co-op the production with a great film program here in Central Florida, Valencia Community College. So, we had a good-sized crew, great equipment, and students eager to learn working side-by-side with seasoned vets. Probably the worst part for me was not getting enough sleep during the process, because though you put the shoot to bed for the night, you can’t always put your brain to bed.
SMN: Looking back as a director, is there anything you would have done in another way with this film?
D’Alessandro: Yes. I would have gotten more coverage. I feel like there are a couple of cutaway shots I had in the script that I failed to grab on set because we were running short on time. I miss them, but I’m not sure anyone else would.