Part 2: El Nino Rises
It’s been a long time since I posted anything here, but I wanted to let everyone in on what I’ve been thinking about since my last post. The Woodsriders is currently in a picture lock state. There was a lot of editing that happened in summer 2014 with Janique, and then a lot of grant writing, and then a lot of rejections. Then, some major life changes. My husband and I bought a house in Portland by the skin of our pants (thanks Proud Ground)! I quit my dayjob in September (thanks to Salt and Straw for helping me float the family boat until then). Then, I edited my tush off. Now, some final components remain – music, sound, color. Those are in the works.
But the interesting part has been what has gotten me through to this moment. To this effect, I thought I’d share some of my recent inspirations and influences in film and the filmmaking process. I’d like to think that all of what I’m about to share have somehow been poured energetically into The Woodsriders.
At a certain point, I wanted to edit The Woodsriders like it was a mystery, to leave the viewer asking questions. I also thought about using sound to create mystery and mood. Lucretia Martel and Ian Clark both use sound so intentionally and masterfully in their films. I’d like to play with that some more.
I’ve been reading a lot of essayist Rebeca Solnit – super badass – and then I watched The Royal Road, a personal/historical essay documentary by San Francisco filmmaker Jenni Olson. This pertains more to future films, but the essay form is really staring to intrigue me and occupy my mindspace. I’d like to make an essay-style film in the future. So far the film that might fit this style is the Ecuador film about my sister. More on that later – could be much later, but the film is beyond percolation stage, it’s just a matter of when.
I saw A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night. Did you see that? So freakin badass. Ana Lily Amirpour said “I thought, I’m going to write something where everything people say and do turns me on” So unafraid to follow her own passions, I dig it.
I watched a hybrid documentary called Stop the Pounding Heart that I thought was lovely, definitely an inspiration for The Woodsriders. I can’t remember if I saw it before or after shooting – wait now I think it was after. No music whatsoever. Gorgeous natural sound, a simple story with long takes, my kinda movie. Also Empire Builder, a slow burning narrative from Kris Swanberg, made a big impact on me via the vibe it creates, again doing so much with so little.
Jauja was divine – From director Lisandro Alonso, Viggo Mortensen as a Danish military officer loses his daughter in the 1880’s Argentine desert – I could have watched it forever. The end is weird but I forgive most weird endings. The guitar music in the film was beautiful and I told my composer Ronen Landa about it as he set up to write tracks for The Woodsriders. I also rekindled my old affections for Yo La Tengo (who did the soundtrack for one of my favorite films, Old Joy by Kelly Reichardt) and Vincent Gallo (no comments, please).
Then there was Leviathan, the fishing boat documentary from Harvard Sensory Ethnography Lab’s Lucian Castaing-Taylor and Verena Paravel. I’ve been obsessed with Sweetgrass, also from the Harvard gang, for years (ahem Mike Neal), and so was excited to see this new film. One critic wrote: “What Leviathan leaves in its own wake is a nonfiction film culture now utterly changed, much how viewers might have felt watching the Free Cinema experiments of the mid-1950s or the vérité masterpieces of the Maysles/Pennebaker/Wiseman era. Documentary filmmakers must now answer to Leviathan’s new combination of direct cinema, experimental ethnography and abstraction. The game is over. Let’s restart.” Leviathan wasn’t so much a pleasure as a confirmation of an attitude: Game over. Let the games begin. Do whatever you want.
And then there were the influences that I had going into this film that I wanted to hold close: Sweetgrass, Kelly Reichardt, Lynn Ramsay, Lake Tahoe (from Mexican director Fernando Eimbcke), Lucretia Martel, Frederick Wiseman (especially La Danse), Claire Denis (especially White Material), Sofia Coppola, Ian Clark (an Oregon filmmaker whose latest A Morning Light I can’t wait to see), Lee Isaac Chung… also Ben Rivers’ Two Years at Sea, which made me come up with the phrase ‘No drama is drama’ as a creed.
I’ve thought about how radical it is to show a female character in voluntary survival mode. We never see this onscreen. (Okay, then Wild came out. But she was a recovering addict and played by Reese Witherspoon. Can’t a regular girl just go hike in the snow?) I read a comment recently about Wendy and Lucy’s Wendy being the female answer to Christopher McCandless, the protagonist from Into the Wild. Not Reese, but Wendy. But McCandless just wanted the adventure, right? No healing required. I think Sadie (The Woodsriders‘ lead character) is an even better answer than Wendy.
His reluctance to revisit past wounds seems to have led to a blanket embargo on curiosity about himself, which I think has leaked into his work because, despite having made three films about human survival in states of extremity, none has even begun to unravel why people behave as they do. His protagonists’ pain is always privately contained, never shared with an intimate or explored through dialogue, so we scarcely know them any better by the final scene. Instead, his films just show what people do – in unflinching detail. So we saw exactly what excrement smeared over prison cell walls and crawling with maggots looks like, or a sex addict masturbating in a toilet cubicle, and now we see exactly what a slave looks like hanging from a noose, while other slaves avert their gaze. But we never see inside their minds. For McQueen, the visual artist, showing what they look like is what matters.
When I ask what new ideas or emotions he thinks the film offers, he admits, “I don’t know. I was just interested in telling the truth by visualising it. Visualisation of this narrative hasn’t been done like this before, and I think that’s the thing. I mean, some images have never been seen before. I needed to see them. It’s very important. I think that’s why cinema’s so powerful.”
And then this from David Whyte:
“Hiding is an act of freedom from the misunderstanding of others, especially in the enclosing world of oppressive secret government and private entities, attempting to name us, to anticipate us, to leave us with no place to hide and grow in ways unmanaged by a creeping necessity for absolute naming, absolute tracking and absolute control. Hiding is a bid for independence, from others, from mistaken ideas we have about our selves, from an oppressive and mistaken wish to keep us completely safe, completely ministered to, and therefore completely managed. Hiding is creative, necessary and beautifully subversive of outside interference and control. Hiding leaves life to itself, to become more of itself. Hiding is the radical independence necessary for our emergence into the light of a proper human future.”
And then I watched Nina Simone’s performance at the 1976 Montreax Jazz Festival and wanted to use Little Girl Blue over the film’s closing credits. I still kind of do, but likely won’t.
I’ll leave it at that. I went bonkers with the links, hope you have some fun with that. The Woodsriders is coming. May your El Nino winter be cold enough for snow.