Monthly Archives: May 2014

Filmmaker Interview: Aron Gaudet and Gita Pullapilly


One of the most impressive independent American films of recent years is Beneath the Harvest Sky, the debut fiction feature of husband/wife team Aron Gaudet and Gita Pullapilly. This touching naturalistic drama tells the story of the friendship between two high-school students, Casper (Emory Cohen) and Dominic (Callan McAuliffe), who work the potato harvest and smuggle drugs, respectively, while dreaming of a better life beyond the world of Van Buren, Maine, the dead-end small town where they live.  The film is equally impressive as an authentic, documentary-like slice of Americana and as a showcase for the powerhouse performances of a cast of terrific up-and-coming actors. While watching the electrifying Cohen, in particular, I felt I understood what it must have been like to first see Marlon Brando on screen in the early 1950s. Beneath the Harvest Sky debuted at the Toronto International Film Festival last fall and is currently playing in limited release around the country, courtesy of distributor Tribeca Films. You can also see it on demand and via various digital platforms — check out the official website for more info:

After having the good fortune to catch Beneath the Harvest Sky on the big screen at Facets in Chicago, I conducted the following interview with Gaudet and Pullapilly via e-mail.


MGS: Gita and Aron, I know you have a background in documentary film production. How did that experience prepare you for making your first fiction feature?

Gita Pullapilly: Aron and I met working in local television news. We joke that our immense dislike for local news brought us together. But in hindsight, working in television news and then working for five years on our first feature documentary, The Way We Get By, really played a major role in developing us as storytellers and filmmakers. I think coming from the documentary world, we knew what those real and authentic moments looked and felt like, so on set, we would say, does this feel real, would this happen like this? And if we felt there was a false note, we’d work and work at it until we both felt it was right.

Aron Gaudet: Even in our process of writing the script for Beneath The Harvest Sky, we used a documentary approach. We basically moved from New York City to Maine and spent a year and a half interviewing as many people as we could from farmers, high school students, Maine Drug Enforcement Agency (MDEA), US Customs & Borders. We even went to the jail and talked with inmates that were charged with prescription drug related crimes. We wanted our characters to represent a collage of people surviving in this small town, without judging them.


MGS: One thing that I loved about the film was how well you captured the regional flavor of that small town. It’s so rare to see small-town American life accurately portrayed in a movie. How did you decide on depicting this particular milieu and how familiar were you with these kinds of characters before you began writing the script?

Aron Gaudet: I am originally from Maine but had only travelled up to Aroostook County (where the film takes place) once in my 26 years living there. In 2010, when we were living in New York City, my brother shared some photos on Facebook by a photographer who captured a northern Maine potato harvest. I thought it was such an amazing place that I wanted to discover more about this area. I thought we could set a coming of age story in this location and use it as a backdrop. When we got up there, we were taken by the beauty of the landscape but also kept asking ourselves the same question, “How do people survive up here?”… We spent a long time trying to really understand from their perspective what it was like to live up there.

Gita Pullapilly: The farmers in “The County” are the real super heroes up there. To see how they manage to sustain the farm and agricultural commodities in that area is impressive. It’s honest hard work and even then it’s not enough to survive. We liked playing around with the idea of harvest and how in different aspects of life, people are harvesting different things—from potatoes to illegal prescription drugs.


MGS: The idea of free will versus destiny runs through the film. This is made explicit when the high-school teacher talks about the “Jim twins” at the beginning, which suggests that maybe humans exercise less free will than we think we do. What did you mean this to suggest in relation to the characters of Casper and Dom and their situation?

Aron Gaudet: It is one layer in the story that we ask the audience to explore and decide for themselves how much of their life and their plan is free will and how much of it might be destiny. Or is it a little of both? This is something that Gita and I talk about quite a bit as we make life decisions or when things impact us in a way that we never predicted. In relation to Casper and Dominic, their choices and decisions have an impact on one another. They hang out in an abandoned house, which is the foundation for their hopes and dreams. Their ticket out—the money they are saving—is sort of buried and growing in that house. But it will be their choices of how they treat that house or how much care they put in following their dreams, which will ultimately affect their fate. There is an equally important question in there about how your environment shapes who you are and your future. We explore that even visually through the harvesting scenes… Are you a rock?—that gets plucked from the field and put into a pile that never leaves town… Or are you a potato?—Something of value that gets shipped out of town.

Gita Pullapilly: Yeah, is it Casper’s family circumstances that determine his fate? Can he escape the socio-economic circumstances that he is in? One of my favorite scenes in the movie is Casper talking to Dominic in the abandoned warehouse about his school that’s K-12. So for his entire childhood, he’s in that school, being judged. And he says, “You know, by third grade they’ve fuckin’ decided, who’s staying, who’s going. They’re either going to care about you, or they’re not going to give a fuck about you.” And that to me is also something that I felt was important to address in the story. In life, you are judged as to whether you will succeed or not and in cases like Casper, even if he tried to turn his life around at school, he would still be labeled as a trouble maker and not given a chance. We know this because we talked to a number of students like Casper, not just in Van Buren, but in a number of high schools, and its all the same.


MGS: It’s unusual for a married couple to co-direct a movie. It seems like all the instances of co-directing that I’m aware of involve either siblings or friends (and usually they’re of the same sex). How exactly did the directing chores break down between you? Was one of you more responsible for the technical side of production and the other more responsible for working with the actors?

Aron Gaudet: We tend to share skillsets and tasks. We’ve been together for 10 years now so we know what we each can do best. We are both involved in all aspects of directing. For us, we realized early on in production that we are certainly actor-focused directors. Performance is everything to us. I think that comes from that documentary background where we want people watching our films to be brought into this world and in this case, feel like they are watching a documentary about these teens’ lives. We really do strive to make sure that as filmmakers we remain authentic to the story.

Gita Pullapilly: On set, we would have two monitors and Aron and I would look for different aspects of the performance. And when an actor completed a scene, we’d ask that they take a pause while Aron and I spoke and discussed the scene. We’d go back to the actor/actors with one unified note. I think that was helpful for us in building their trust and confidence in us and equally important to the scene. They would have two people saying, “We got it.” There is a tremendous benefit to knowing that two people were looking at the monitors for anything and everything in that performance. We didn’t have any re-shoots. And I think so much of that was knowing that on the ground in production, even with all the improvisation, that we captured the key elements in the performances for each of the scenes.


MGS: The film is mainly about a male friendship but the two female leads were also very strong. Is it correct to assume that Gita was responsible for fleshing out the female characters? I’m thinking specifically of details such as the vodka-soaked tampons. As a married man who is generally not naive, I had no clue this was something that was even done.

Aron Gaudet: I first found out about vodka tampons when I read about it in the local newspaper up there and starting asking the police officers if that was actually a serious issue. What we discovered was pretty shocking. Girls and boys were both doing this and thinking they wouldn’t get caught drinking. They believed that could pass a Breathalyzer test. But what they didn’t get is that just because you can’t smell alcohol on your breath doesn’t mean it isn’t in your bloodstream.

Gita Pullapilly: As for female/male character development, it definitely wasn’t one or the other, me or Aron thing, because we work so closely together fleshing out our characters from what we learn in real life. I think the details of scenes like the vodka tampon scene come more from us asking the right questions when we’re doing our research and trying to understand not just how things are done but also the motivations and the reasoning behind certain actions. It is pretty funny though. When people meet us after seeing our movie, I think they are surprised that Aron and I made this film since we don’t live in that world or have any connections to the place, except that Aron is from Maine. But I take it as a big compliment to us that we did our research and homework well enough to capture that place.


MGS: The cinematography is very striking. There were a lot of shots where the camera was at a distance from the actors and there would be something in the foreground that was out-of-focus. Were you trying to create a feeling of voyeurism with the visual style?

Aron Gaudet: Exactly, we did want that voyeuristic sense like you were thrown into this world, eavesdropping on these conversations, and we talked a lot about creating sort of these dirty compositions that the audience would be looking through. I think it’s funny when people say we come from a documentary background, and so that’s why the film looks like that. Because in our documentary, The Way We Get By, we shot almost entirely on tripods, whereas this is shot exclusively handheld.

Gita Pullapilly: I do think the choice of handheld is perfect for this story because we also wanted audiences to feel the suffocation that our teens were feeling, so that’s seen with some of those tight shots in the film or when we hold on a shot maybe a second longer, it’s all about bringing the audience into that closed, trapped world that so many people feel they are in. It’s not just teens that feel trapped in their lives, but think a lot of adults feel the same way and the question is, what will it take to break those chains and free you to live the life you truly want for yourself.


MGS: What can you tell me about your next project?

Aron Gaudet: We have a few projects that we’re exploring. We’re talking to some producers about a few scripts. But we really see ourselves as content creators—so we prefer to write and direct our own movies. If there is a script that really captures something that we feel is real and authentic though, we’re always open to considering it.

Gita Pullapilly: Yeah, for us, it’s about finding the right story and also looking at a way to really push the boundaries for our actors. One of the stories we’re researching now, has a great strong lead role that we’re really excited about. It also means finding the right actor that we can work with, that can commit to an intense and dynamic part like this. Going back to one of your original questions, who knows what that next project will end up being, and if it will be our free will or our destiny that will allow it to come to fruition. When something feels right, we usually sense it and we try to listen to those intuitions to guide us. But one thing we know for sure is it will be another exciting journey.

You can check out the trailer for Beneath the Harvest Sky via YouTube below:


The Last Ten Movies I Saw

1. Written on the Wind (Sirk)
2. The Messiah (Rossellini)
3. Before Sunset (Linklater)
4. Fading Gigolo (Turturro)
5. Love Unto Death (Resnais)
6. Life is a Bed of Roses (Resnais)
7. Manhattan (Allen)
8. A History of Violence (Cronenberg)
9. Ishtar (May)
10. Terror Train (Spottiswoode)

Celluloid Flashback: Renaldo and Clara

Bob Dylan turns 73-years-old this Saturday. (Can you believe that Charlie Brown was depressed about the guy turning 30?). My Dylan/movie-themed birthday-tribute post this year — the latest in a series of four — is an analysis of the bard’s misunderstood and rarely seen 1978 masterpiece Renaldo and Clara. Happy birthday, Bob!

“(Dylan) has given himself more tight close-ups than any actor can have had in the whole history of the movies.”

— Pauline Kael on Renaldo and Clara

“It’s like a tapestry. What he did was, he shot about 110 hours of film, and he looked at it all. Then he put it all on index cards, according to some preconceptions he had when he was directing the shooting; namely themes; God, rock ‘n’ roll, art, poetry, marriage, women, sex, Bob Dylan, poets, death, maybe 18 or 20 thematic preoccupations. Then he also put on index cards all the different characters, all the scenes, the dominant colours blue or red, and certain other images that go through the movie, like the rose and the hat and American Indians, so that finally he had an index of all of that. And then he went through it all again and began composing it thematically, weaving in and out of these specific compositional references. So it’s compositional, and the idea was not to have a plot but to have a composition of those themes.”

— Allen Ginsberg on the editing of Renaldo and Clara


Renaldo and Clara, Bob Dylan’s four-hour cinematic magnum opus, is one of the great unseen movies of the 1970s. Shot just prior to and during Dylan’s celebrated Rolling Thunder Revue tour in the fall of 1975, and edited by Dylan and cinematographer Howard Alk throughout 1976 and 1977, this unusually ambitious American art film received a very limited theatrical release in the U.S. beginning on January 25, 1978. Unfortunately, it was not successful critically or commercially and closed after only a few weeks. A re-edited version, only two hours in length, was released later in the year and fared marginally better. Predictably, Renaldo and Clara was more successful in Europe, screening in the Director’s Fortnight section at the Cannes Film Festival in 1978 (where it was generally well received) and winning an award at the Mannheim-Heidelberg International Film Festival in Germany. The four-hour cut was eventually shown on Channel 4 in the United Kingdom at some point in the 1980s, perhaps only once, and has never been officially released on home video in any country in any format. All circulating copies, even on DVD, are bootleg versions sourced from VHS recordings of the European television airing and are consequently of poor image and sound quality. Nonetheless, even when viewed under these less than optimal conditions, something of the movie’s greatness still manages to come through. On a formal level, Renaldo and Clara continually cross-cuts between three distinct modes of filmmaking: the concert film, the documentary and the fictional narrative. The rest of this article will focus on each one of these modes and how Dylan interweaves them to create a unique work of cinematic poetry.

The concert sequences are undoubtedly the movie’s most accessible aspect, which is not surprising given that the Rolling Thunder Revue is widely regarded as one of Dylan’s all-time great tours (the two-hour cut supposedly focuses more heavily on this footage). In the long version there are a lot of great scenes of Dylan performing live while wearing white-face make-up (a reference to Marcel Carne’s 1945 film Children of Paradise, a Dylan favorite) — including urgent, occasionally incendiary renditions of then-new songs like “Isis,” “Romance in Durango,” “One More Cup of Coffee” and “Tangled Up In Blue.” The last of these is filmed in a single long-take close-up that probably single-handedly prompted Pauline Kael’s hyperbolic claim that Dylan gave himself more “tight close-ups” than any actor had in the “whole history of the movies.” (I know Kael prided herself on not seeing any movie more than once but surely The Passion of Joan of Arc could not have faded that much from her memory.) Kael’s dismissal of Renaldo and Clara as the ultimate vanity project is contradicted by the communal spirit of the Rolling Thunder Revue, a tour whose epic shows involved a large and diverse gaggle of performers (some of whom were reuniting with Dylan from his Greenwich Village club days, others of whom were more recent recruits), and this spirit is reflected in the film itself: there are terrific live performances by Joan Baez, Allen Ginsberg, Ramblin’ Jack Elliot, Roger McGuinn, Ronee Blakley, and Rob Stoner, among others — pretty magnanimous for a man who, according to Kael, made a four-hour film “about himself.”


The fictional narrative sequences undoubtedly pose the biggest challenge to viewers. Dylan originally hired playwright Sam Shepard to write dialogue scenes before the tour began and gave him only vague instructions about his intentions for the movie, referring Shepard instead to French art films like Children of Paradise and Francois Truffaut’s Shoot the Piano Player (1960). Once the tour was underway, however, Shepard realized that Dylan had little interest in working with a screenplay and it appears that only a single scene in the finished film was scripted: Shepard himself, in his screen debut as an actor, appears alongside of Dylan’s wife Sara as a pair of quarreling lovebirds. In this sharply written scene, Shepard plays a rodeo rider and Mrs. Dylan plays his girlfriend or wife. The two argue about the future of their relationship. She tells him he treats her like an “amulet” and says that she would stay with him but only if he asks her the right way. She warns him he will end up living in a mobile home. He responds by saying, “I happen to like mobile homes. I think they’re a true American . . . aw, fuck it.” (Shepard ultimately received an “additional dialogue by” credit for his efforts.) The rest of the fictional scenes appear to be improvised by the performers and were shot in long takes with little or no editing. Nonetheless, a distinct theme does recur throughout these fictional scenes: nearly all of them are centered on a conflict between a man and a woman — where the conflict arises from the man’s being torn between his love for his profession and his love for the woman. Armchair psychologists and Dylanologists, make of that what you will.

In addition to Sam Shepard and Sara Dylan, some of the other musicians and actors who incarnate eternally-battling Man and Woman in the fictional scenes include: Bob Dylan, Harry Dean Stanton, Steven Soles, Rob Stoner, Ronnie Hawkins, Joan Baez, Ruth Tyrangel, Helena Kallianiotes and Ronee Blakley. Not unlike some of the films of Jacques Rivette, these scenes feature a weird but strangely poignant mish-mash of acting styles: some of the performers are naturals while others, including Dylan himself, appear distinctly uncomfortable. In the former category are singer Ronnie Hawkins, cheekily credited as “Bob Dylan” in the end titles, who displays some crack comic timing and figures prominently in three separate fictional scenes (in spite of the fact that he was not a part of the tour), as well as Ronee Blakley, fresh off of her stint in Robert Altman’s Nashville (for which she would soon receive an Oscar nomination). Blakely, emoting her ass off as a woman in a loveless marriage credited as “Mrs. Dylan,” has to share screen space with the guitarist Steven Soles who is clearly out of his depth playing “Ramon,” her husband or lover. Soles, like most inexperienced improvisers (see Mick Ronson elsewhere in this same film) merely repeats the same few lines over and over again. And yet, I would argue that the tension between the performance styles of Blakley and Soles mirrors the tension between their characters and makes this “badly written” and “badly acted” scene more effective than a more polished and professional approach ever could.


Renaldo and Clara‘s documentary sequences are fascinating and diverse in and of themselves: Dylan and Alk alternate between showing what various Rolling Thunder Revue musicians do during the day while not performing and showing more traditional “journalistic” documentary segments that are nonetheless somehow tangentially related to the tour. In the former category, there are scenes of Allen Ginsberg performing “Kaddish” in a nursing home, Dylan and Ginsberg visiting Jack Kerouac’s grave, Joan Baez being serenaded by an elderly gypsy woman named “Mama Frasca” inside of her “Dream Away Lodge” boarding house, and most of the musicians visiting an Indian reservation. In the latter category, there are scenes of a group of diners talking to a restaurant owner about the legacy of the 1960s, a press conference in which imprisoned boxer Rubin “Hurricane” Carter (RIP!) talks about his quest for a retrial, some amazing “man on the street” interviews, and musician David Blue playing pinball while reminiscing about the Greenwich Village folk revival of the early 1960s (these sequences, in which Blue proves himself a funny and colorful raconteur, function as a kind Greek-chorus commentary on many of the other scenes). The “Hurricane” section is the film’s most artful and powerful: footage of the shaven-headed Carter delivering kernels of wisdom (“There is no ‘no,’ there is only ‘yes’) — one understands why Dylan called the boxer “Buddha in a 10-foot cell” — are intercut with interviews of the denizens of a black neighborhood talking about Carter’s plight. This sequence frequently utilizes freeze-frames on the interviewees’ sometimes-angry faces while Dylan’s majestic song “Hurricane” fades in and out on the soundtrack.

As the Allen Ginsberg quote at the beginning of this review suggests, the whole of Renaldo and Clara is greater than the sum of its parts because the strength of the film lies in its very careful and clever editing patterns. Unfortunately, it must be noted that much of the negative reaction to the film has come from Dylan’s own fans who, after all, are practically the only ones who have even seen it. What the fans wanted was a conventional concert movie and what Dylan gave them was an art film that applied the same free-association poetic logic to its crazy-quilt editing that Dylan usually brings to his songwriting process (funny how people who have no problem with “abstract” song lyrics find the very same quality in cinema unbearable). Dylan and Alk’s editing of the film progresses not based on temporality then but on the filmmakers’ tracing certain visual and aural motifs like the ones Ginsberg noted. To give one detailed example, take the American Indian motif: early in the film Dylan and his violinist Scarlett Rivera can be seen tuning their instruments backstage before a show. On the soundtrack we hear a non-diegetic version of Dylan running through a rehearsal of Hank Williams’s “Kaw-Liga,” a song about a cigar store Indian. The song continues to play over the next scene in which a truck emblazoned with an Indian-head logo can be seen barreling down the highway (presumably alongside of Dylan’s tour bus). Over this shot, a disc jockey’s voice can be heard announcing that Dylan’s Rolling Thunder Revue is coming to town. The Rolling Thunder tour was named for a Native American medicine man, we soon learn, when the tour’s performers visit an Indian reservation. The reservation scene is scored to a non-diegetic version of Dylan rehearsing Curtis Mayfield’s “People Get Ready,” a poignant way for Dylan and Alk to link the plight of Native Americans to the civil rights struggles of African Americans. The train imagery in the lyrics to “People Get Ready” then serves as a bridge to the next scene — of the Rolling Thunder Revue performers riding a passenger train. And so on and so forth.


It is clear, from interviews he gave to promote the film in 1978, that Bob Dylan was proud of Renaldo and Clara. He was unusually open and honest with reporters when talking about his intentions for it and the process of making it. The negative reviews must have stung (the Village Voice had four different critics review it, all of whom panned it — and one of whom wished in print that Dylan were dead), which no doubt accounts for the film’s unavailability today. There have been rumors in recent years that Dylan’s camp has been preparing a sequel to Martin Scorsese’s acclaimed Dylan-doc No Direction Home (2005) that will focus on the Rolling Thunder tours of 1975 and 1976. Since the release of such a movie would undoubtedly involve all of the extant footage shot for Renaldo and Clara receiving a new HD transfer, one can only hope that Renaldo and Clara will itself soon receive the Blu-ray release that it deserves. It will be easier to appreciate the film’s abundant riches if they can be seen and heard in great quality. But even if the masses who haven’t yet seen it end up thinking it’s a bunch of pretentious nonsense, most of them should at least be able to appreciate the awesome spectacle of Harry Dean Stanton and Joan Baez making out while singing a duet of “Cucurrucucú Paloma.”

There are numerous poor-quality video clips of Renaldo and Clara floating around the internet. Here’s one on YouTube of Bob Dylan and Joan Baez performing a terrific version of Never Let Me Go:

A Tale of Two Field Trips: Jimmy P. and Body and Soul

A couple of months ago I had the great pleasure of taking two classes from two different schools on field trips to see movies in the theater. My “World of Cinema” class from Harold Washington College, which focused primarily on westerns and films noir, went to see a screening of Arnaud Desplechin’s 2013 film Jimmy P. (Psychotherapy of a Plains Indian) at Facets Multimedia. A week later my “Intro to Film” class from Oakton Community College went to a 35mm revival of Robert Rossen’s boxing drama Body and Soul (1947) at Northwestern University’s Block Cinema — a screening that was introduced by the esteemed critic and author J. Hoberman. Both titles ended up fitting perfectly into my curricula even though I had never seen either of them before. These experiences reminded me again of why teaching is the best job in the world: it gives one the opportunity to learn along with one’s students.


Writing about Jimmy P. (Psychotherapy of a Plains Indian) was the midterm assignment for my “World of Cinema” class. Because the students had at that point spent most of the semester studying the western, I told them I wanted them to write essays illustrating how the movie, although not technically a western, still might be seen as engaging the core concerns of the genre. I knew before going in that Jimmy P. was a drama about a Native American undergoing psychoanalysis in the late 1940s and that Desplechin had said he thought about John Ford every day while making the film, but this still turned out to be a more profitable exercise for them than I could have imagined. While the western has long been predicated on depicting culture clashes that result in physical violence, Jimmy P. depicts a similar culture clash but one that results in psychological violence: it tells the story of James Picard (Benicio Del Toro in his finest performance to date), a Blackfoot Indian and World War II veteran who, much like Robert Taylor’s Shoshone character in Anthony Mann’s Devil’s Doorway, has trouble readjusting to civilian life upon being discharged from military service.

At the film’s beginning, Picard is suffering from headaches and bouts of blindness that cause him to seek help at a Topeka military hospital. The doctors there can find nothing physically wrong with him and recruit Georges Devereux (Mathieu Amalric at his most exuberant), a Hungarian-Jewish psychotherapist/anthropologist who has spent time with Native Americans, for assistance. What follows is a series of extended rap sessions between the two men that shows the process of psychoanalysis in great detail. It soon becomes apparent that Picard is suffering from trauma stemming from events in his early childhood combined with a lifetime of facing casual racism. Picard, whose Blackfoot name means “Everybody Talks About Him,” also faces an identity crisis: he’s a practicing Catholic with his feet planted in two separate worlds, both of which he feels alienated from. Desplechin’s formidable achievement here is to not only realistically show how one can be healed through the process of psychotherapy but also to depict a beautiful and unlikely friendship between two very different men (though one gets the impression that Devereux was well-equipped to treat Picard precisely because he was as much of an “outsider” to mainstream American society as his patient). Jimmy P. is a genuinely optimistic movie that never resorts to sentimentality — and that’s a rare thing indeed.

Jimmy P. (Psychotherapy of a Plains Indian) rating: 8.6


The screening of Body and Soul at Block Cinema, about which my “Intro to Film” students had to write a brief screening report, marked the final episode in an intriguingly programmed series entitled “Red Hollywood.” According to J. Hoberman’s lecture, this blue-collar epic was the most explicitly leftist of a crop of post-World War II era Hollywood movies that would soon draw the ire of Joe McCarthy and the House Un-American Activities Committee (director Robert Rossen, screenwriter Abraham Polonsky and lead actor John Garfield were all eventually blacklisted or graylisted). Body and Soul centers on Charley Davis (Garfield), a tough street kid who is taken under the wing of an unscrupulous promoter (Lloyd Goff) after winning an amateur boxing match. He eventually becomes a champion fighter but loses his soul in the process. While Rossen is not generally regarded as an auteur (there’s a reason why I had never seen this before), he and legendary cinematographer James Wong Howe undeniably worked cinematic magic in the boxing sequences — the final of which saw Howe using a handheld camera while being pushed around the ring on rollerskates. (Body and Soul‘s influence, aesthetically and narratively, on both Rocky and Raging Bull is plain to see.)

J. Hoberman’s pre and post-screening remarks focused heavily on one shot, containing just 20 words of dialogue, that was cut from some release prints (and even, probably by accident, the film’s first DVD release) — a Jewish grocer making a delivery to Charley’s mother says: “Over in Europe the Nazis are killing people like us just because of their religion. But here Charley Davis is champion.” Arguably more interesting, however, is the overall contempt the film expresses for money and its corrupting power. This is perhaps best exemplified by an emotionally charged scene where the villainous promoter drops money on the floor in front of a brain-damaged African-American boxer (Canada Lee) who subsequently refuses to pick it up. Body and Soul‘s message about the importance of integrity and not selling out (in a neat twist, Davis knowingly loses a huge sum of money by winning his final fight) is arguably more vital and poignant today, in an era when most contemporary Hollywood movies — with the notable and ironic exception of The Wolf of Wall Street — seem to do nothing but worship the acquisition of wealth and fame.

You can check out the trailer for Jimmy P. (Psychotherapy of a Plains Indian) via YouTube below:

The Last Ten Movies I Saw

1. Beneath the Harvest Sky (Gaudet/Pullapilly)
2. Two Lovers (Gray)
3. Spring Breakers (Korine)
4. Mulholland Drive (Lynch)
5. The Twelve Chairs (Brooks)
6. How to Live in the German Federal Republic (Farocki)
7. Yella (Petzold)
8. Pursued (Walsh)
9. The Grand Budapest Hotel (Anderson)
10. Only Angels Have Wings (Hawks)

My New Film: Cool Apocalypse


I am pleased to announce that, following the success of my shorts At Last, Okemah! and The Catastrophe on the U.S. film festival circuit, I am planning on shooting a feature-length film this summer. It is entitled Cool Apocalypse and it is a romantic character-based drama. It will unquestionably be the biggest and best thing I’ve ever done. I’m therefore in need of your help!

We are presently deep into pre-production and very excited about the movie we are about to make. Auditions are done and we will be announcing our phenomenal cast of actors soon. We will shoot Cool Apocalypse in black-and-white digital on the Panasonic GH3 (the successor to the camera on which Shane Carruth shot Upstream Color). You can learn all about it on our website. If you could please take a look at the site and think about making a donation we would GREATLY appreciate it. This film’s budget will be raised entirely through “crowd sourced funding” and virtually none of the cast and crew, including me, will be getting paid. Nearly all of the budget will go towards making the film look and sound as good as possible. As most of you probably know, independent filmmaking is very difficult, so every little bit helps. Donations of $25 and up are eligible to receive a host of exciting perks including tickets to Zanies comedy club in Chicago, HD downloads of the film, mp3s of the original soundtrack and even a speaking cameo in the film! Donations can be sent directly through the site but you can also contact me via e-mail if you would like to send a check.

My 39th birthday is coming up on June 14th; if you were thinking about getting me a birthday present, please make it be a donation to this movie. Or, if you’ve enjoyed reading this blog, which I’ve written for four years as a labor of love for no pay, please consider making a donation to the film as a way of showing your appreciation. Independent filmmaking in Chicago is a VERY worthy cause. Even if you can’t make a donation at this time, please check out the website anyway and learn how you can help us merely by “liking” us on facebook and/or following the making of the movie on Twitter.

Thank you all very much in advance!

Filmmaker Interview: Mariano Barroso

Mariano Barroso may be the best Spanish filmmaker you’ve never heard of. He cast Javier Bardem in his first leading role (in the 1996 crime film Ecstasy) and his formidable 2013 drama All the Women, which recently played the Chicago Latino Film Festival, just won a Goya award (Spain’s equivalent of the Oscar) for Best Screenplay and was called the best Spanish film of the year by none other than Pedro Almodovar. All the Women tells the story of Nacho (Eduard Fernandez), a charming, hyper-macho Spanish veterinarian who hatches an ill-fated plot to steal cows from his father-in-law and sell them for a hefty profit in Portugal. When his plan swiftly unravels, Nacho seeks advice from six different women: his wife, his mistress, an ex-girlfriend, his mother, his sister-in-law and a psychiatrist. The result is a potent critique of masculinity that deserves wider stateside exposure. I spoke with Barroso in person about All the Women and his filmmaking career to date.


MGS: I didn’t realize until after I saw it that All the Women was adapted from a television miniseries you had done a few years ago. I was surprised to learn that because it works so well as a 90-minute movie. How does the movie differ from the miniseries and when did you realize that the miniseries could work as a standalone movie?

MB: The thing is that we recut the series. Originally, it was conceived to be a feature film and this producer from TNT in Spain — in television — offered to do a miniseries. So we could produce it with them, but I always felt it still could be the feature film that I wanted it to be. It’s not that we cut for the movie, but that we added for the series. So we recut it, we changed the music and we changed a few things but basically, yeah, it was a pleasure actually to be cutting out all of the stuff that I didn’t really love in the series.

MGS: So it ended up being what you wanted it to be originally?

MB: Exactly. And now it’s going to be done in the theater too. Somebody offered me — I’m not going to direct it because I’m doing something else but — it’s going to be done in Argentina and in Spain too.

MGS: Do you have a theatrical background?

MB: You mean with other movies?

MGS: No. Directing for the stage.

MB: Yeah, I’ve done a few plays in Spain.

MGS: The reason why I ask is because I saw your film Ecstasy (1996) with Javier Bardem . . .

MB: Yeah, yeah. And this also . . .

MGS: . . . is set in the world of the theater. It’s a crime film but setting it within that world made it fresh.

MB: That’s true.


MGS: But back to All the Women: I loved the way it was structured. It has six distinct chapters in which the main character, Nacho, has conversations with six different women. When you first came up with the idea, were you thinking of this structure or were you thinking of the story?

MB: I thought that the portrait of the man as seen by six different women would make a nice puzzle — in the sense that each of them would have a different point-of-view about him. But putting them all together could bring us some light about this sick guy. (laughs) On a moral level he’s miserable, but on a human level we wanted him to be adorable. It’s actually based on somebody that I know, very close. These kind of characters always fascinate me. Everywhere we show the movie, in Argentina, in Spain of course, here in Chicago, in Poland a couple weeks ago, people empathize (with) or recognize themselves within the character. Men feel they have some connection with him and women know somebody who behaves like that: manipulation. Somebody said it’s like a chronicle of machismo.

MGS: That’s what I was thinking: it’s like a critique of machismo but from an insider’s perspective. Would you say you’re interested in exploring sexual politics in your films?

MB: It’s more about . . . What I’m more interested in is, like, family relationships — in the sense that I think big drama happens in small relationships: the smaller the group, the bigger the drama. And I think that’s where the origin of all drama is. It’s a low-budget movie but no matter what the budget is, no matter what the production is, it’s in the subject of making drama, not spending money on big action (scenes), but in trying to go deep into the characters; that interests me a lot. Like to find out, to discover, to understand that kind of behavior, to see how people react to what they see. It’s very interesting to see and to have the chance, like here in Chicago now, to listen to people’s questions. They’ve been very active in that sense, asking questions in the Q&A sessions after the screenings. It’s really amazing because they all relate (the movie) to themselves. So I think that’s something that is very easily recognizable.


MGS: So you’re more interested in depicting intimacy — in depicting intimate relationships between people — rather than male-female relationships specifically?

MB: Well, that includes everything. The first thing includes the second one. But, yeah, of course now, especially in Spain, we are always way behind the changes that people — let’s, say, like in the States — now we are dealing in Spain for, what (only) 10 or 15 years now, with the big change in the role of women in society. That’s something that happened years ago but in Spain we are dealing with that (now). So I think this situation where the men have to find their place, you see this guy, this Nacho, you see how he doesn’t find his place. He’s not able to see the truth. He even says at some point, he says, “I don’t know why you are all obsessed with the truth. What the fuck is really the truth? (laughs) What happened to the truth?” And he believes it.

MGS: I feel like at the end of the film he had made some kind of breakthrough.

MB: Yeah, the psychologist, the therapist does not get involved with his emotional mess. So she stays away even though he tries to take her into his craziness. But she manages to stay away and then by doing that I think she provokes that he feels anguish in a way. That way, he can find some kind of question or some kind of truth about himself. That’s the idea.

MGS: Was that because she was a therapist or because she didn’t know him as well as the other women?

MB: Well, both, but I think more the fact that she doesn’t know him. And the fact that she has to stay with him, on a medical level anyway — because if we only had her not knowing him, she would leave like after five minutes. But she’s a therapist and when she sees that he’s in trouble she empathizes with him, because he’s a charmer. So that makes her stay and listen.

MGS: The moment where she has him address the empty chair was very powerful.

MB: Yeah, yeah. It’s interesting. Many psychologists come to the screenings. I would have never (otherwise) spoken to spectators who are psychologists. One month ago in Argentina we had plenty of psychologists everywhere. So, like, 15 or 20 psychologists came to the screening and said, “Thank you for the portrait.” Last night (in Chicago), happened the same thing. They said, “It’s an excellent portrait of a psychologist because usually in the movies people make them look ridiculous.” We tried to make her believable.

MGS: And she’s good at her job.

MB: (laughs) And she’s very good. And she’s a great actress too (Nathalie Poza).

MGS: They’re all very good. Eduard Fernandez seems like he was born to play the role of Nacho.

MB: (laughs) Yeah.


MGS: I read that you were influenced by the character of Tony Soprano . . .

MB: Well, my co-writer and I, we love The Sopranos. So in a way we tried to do this very difficult thing that Gandolfini did, and The Sopranos did, which is like to convert the darkness into light. How to make something that is really dark — like in his life and in his look and in his way of thinking — how to make a light . . . a shining show, in a way. And that is The Sopranos too. The character also is, like, morally, he can’t be worse. On a moral level, he’s so lost.

MGS: But we like him anyway.

MB: We like him anyway. He’s asking for help to all these women. He’s asking for help to all of them so that’s why I think we like him.

MGS: Yes, I agree. I wanna ask you about In the Time of the Butterflies (2001) with Salma Hayek and Edward James Olmos. That was made for Showtime, I believe, in America?

MB: Showtime, yeah.

MGS: Was that a positive experience for you, making that?

MB: It was a great experience, and I wish I could have been able to enjoy it more. But the pressure, I’m not used to working with such pressure, with so many producers telling you what to do, really. We don’t have that in Spain. And that is something good and something bad. All the movies that you do, you invent them, you create them, you’re supposed to get them made. Then, it’s like, the director has the last word. But in America that’s quite different. I’m not saying it’s bad or worse. It’s just different. So the business is too tough from my point-of-view. I like making movies but I find making movies such a hard job that I’d rather enjoy making them than suffer. So it’s too tough. I find it too tough for me. It was too intense but it was an amazing experience and I had wonderful people working with me. And, yeah, it was great.

MGS: It’s a good film.

MB: I also jumped into the directing job on that movie like four months before (shooting began). We had to redo the script. But, yeah, it was a great experience, yeah.

MGS: Are you working on any projects now that you can talk about?

MB: Yeah, I’m working on a sequel to (All the Women). But we take his character, Eduard’s character, five years later. And he, of course, got in some deeper mess so he’s living under a different identity and he’s living in South America — in Argentina or Uruguay. It’s a different identity. He’s working on a cow farm. But then something happens to him.

MGS: Is Eduard Fernandez going to play the character again?

MB: Yeah.

MGS: So it’s the same character but a different, self-contained story?

MB: Exactly. I don’t want to do a sequel because the movie, even though it’s done very well in Spain — we got the Goya award for the script . . .

MGS: And Pedro Almodovar said it was the best Spanish film he saw last year!

MB: Pedro said that, yeah. Yeah, I said thanks to him every time I see him: “Thank you, Pedro, for that!” Everybody calls after that! But, yeah, he was really nice. And then, yeah, we’re working with the same character.

MGS: That’s going to be a film or another miniseries?

MB: Film.

MGS: Very cool. I greatly look forward to seeing that.

MB: Thanks a lot.


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