After the awards ceremony, I caught four of the winning filmmakers (five if you count both of the Smith brothers) for quick interviews. Each had made a movie that stood out at the festival and that I was particularly interested.
In the case of Monkey Trial, it was the subject matter that caught my eye. In the case of Lady Warriors, it was the storytelling. With Sinless and The Slaughter Rule it was the filmmakers themselves who intrigued me.
Read about these winners in their own words:
"William Jennings Bryan and Loren Eisley both hung out here in this town, so I guess that’s the connection. Loren Eisley was a very different program. It was kind of experimental. And it was done mostly for Nebraska. Monkey Trial is a national so it was done for American Experience.
|I found out the real story, which to me was a lot more interesting and a lot more nuanced and a lot more fair|
"When I was a teenager I saw Inherit the Wind. To me that was history. It’s awfully embarrassing that somebody like Bryan who’s from Nebraska was such an idiot. In the film he falls dead on the courtroom floor, he has an apoplectic fit.
"But it wasn’t until a couple years before I made the film that I found out the real story, which to me was a lot more interesting and a lot more nuanced and a lot more fair. I really began to understand why Bryan did what he did. I’m not a fundamentalist, I’m not a creationist. And yet as I began to research this I began to understand why fundamentalists are they way they are today. Because they really got a beating from the media and it was unfair.
"I got one of those textbooks that they used that was being taught in John Scopes’ classroom and it’s all about sterilization of retarded people and all about how Darwin has shown it’s survival of the fittest and we might as well get rid of anybody who isn’t fit.
"After the trial, the fundamentalist movement went underground. Everyone thought it had died. And what was really happening was they regrouped. And they began to change their tactics. They thought we can’t fight using the Bible anymore as our only proof of creationism. So they’ve invented something called scientific creationism."
John C.P. Goheen
"I was approached by a company called Corvis Documentaries. They approached me and said ‘Hey wanna make a film?’ and I said ‘Sure.’ They said you can make it on any subject, anywhere in the world, and they had a huge budget.
| "They approached me and said ‘Hey wanna make a film?’"
"I had a four-page list of ideas I dug out of my drawer. I kind of wanted something that I thought would be in my back yard. One of the things I’ve been wanting to do was something on Native American running, so that led me to the Navajo reservation.
"As it turns out, it wasn’t really close to home. It was about 500 miles from my house to Tuba City — I can tell you exactly, it was 519 miles, because I drove it a lot.
"In the course of shooting the first one [Lady Warriors], everyone was sort of telling me ‘You should do something on the Miss Navajo pageant.’ I said, ‘Well, okay, tell me what’s so good about it?’ They said ‘Well, you know they butcher a sheep...’
"’What do you mean, they butcher a sheep? Who Does?’
"So that’s how the second one [American Nizhoni] came about. The second one is self-financed. I’m still looking for a distributor, still trying to pay off the credit cards, the whole thing of the independent filmmaker."
Nik Fackler (he’s 18)
"I made my first film when I was 16. And after I made that film, I really decided that this is the way I wanted to go. And I got accepted to the Los Angeles film school when I was that age. And I was the youngest person ever to get accepted to it.
| "I was the youngest person ever to get accepted to [the Los Angeles film school]"
"But I turned it down because I’m against it. I don’t want anyone to teach me how to be creative or how to make something that is supposed to be artistic or creative. I want to learn on my own how to make things dramatic, and how to make them comical, and things like that.
"So my idea is just to make as many short films as possible that have to deal with different genres to see which one I like the best and to see how well I can portray sadness or happiness.
"My cinematographer Tony, he’s a friend of the Hills. The Hills live right down the street from me. I met Mike [Hill, the Academy-Award-winning editor who also attended the GPFF] when I was in high school. In fact, he wrote me a letter to the Los Angeles high school. Mike’s not a good friend of mine or anything, but I know him. He’s right down the street. Someone as professional as that you can’t get better than that.
"I work as a waiter. That’s how I get my money. The rest of the time I just write as much as I can. People are starting to notice me and respond to me, which is good.
"Some people jump right into making a feature. I think that’s totally the wrong way to go. I think you make as many shorts as possible. Really create a form for yourself and a style and a unique look for your films. And then you kind of make a step and do make a feature film.
"So I’ve got seven short films so far and a music video coming up for a band called Azure Ray, on the Saddle Creek label. And they did all the music for my last short film. They really liked it. They wanted me to shoot their music video. That’s definitely good because I don’t have to pay for it and I get paid for it, so it’s professional.
"Give me a few more days and I have the script done that I’ve been working on for about a year now."
The Smith Brothers (Andrew and Alex)
"We’re twin brothers. I was always the leader and Alex makes his choices based on that."
| "Fifteen years from now we can look back and say ‘this is the film we wanted’"
"Andrew had the new wave look in high school and I chose not to follow that path."
"We grew up on a ranch. Like a very small, non-working ranch. We call it a ranch, but it wasn’t a ranch."
"We went to high school in Missoula and essentially that was town. It was 20, 25 miles away. But we were there all the time. We went to a tiny rural grade school. It was built in the turn of the century — four rooms, 80 kids."
Growing Up with the Marx Brothers
"Because it was a university town, there was one good art house theater. We didn’t have a TV where we grew up, and our mom loved movies, so every weekend she’d take us to the movies. We grew up on — this was before VCRs — Charlie Chaplin films, Humphrey Bogart films, Bergman and Kurosawa."
"So we grew up on a lot of really great films. And they were our only really moving images for most of our childhood. It wasn’t a principle thing, we just didn’t get any reception where we lived."
"Our parents were so into movies that they kind of gave us a love for it. I really loved the silent comedies and the Marx brothers. In fact we considered shooting The Slaughter Rule in black and white."
A Decade of Slaughter
"This one took a long time to get made. We started writing it in ‘91. We had a lot of different lives, detours, and dead ends. We had difficulty getting it made because the subject matter is tough, and it’s hard to cast big stars in it, and they are just hard animals to make unless there’s a big commercial hook, or else they’re a genre thing, and this isn’t either, just a straight-ahead drama."
"We learned a lot working on films just doing just about every job. That helped us when we got to the shoot. We worked on some good movies and some bad ones. Got to see what to do right, what to do wrong."
"No one values place as much as they should. A lot of people think it’s generic. In some ways they’re right. Most of the audience wouldn’t know if we shot in Alberta or if we shot somewhere else, but the main thing is we couldn’t come back to home. We didn’t want to shoot somewhere else."
"I figure if you become very specific about where you’re from, it almost has more universal appeal. If you try to make it very generic, it doesn’t work. So we decided this isn’t a film that’s about Montana, it’s just set there, but it’s about everybody’s hometown — there’s always a strange character, still a lot of repression that goes on in small towns, a lot of themes that people haven’t dealt with in American cinema."
"The funny thing is the film has connected all over, with audiences in Texas and Oklahoma, and Lake Placid, New York. But also in Australia, New Zealand, Sweden, places where there’s lots of harsh weather conditions, and lots of space."
"We have momentum, but not criticial mass. We have a lot of people in the film industry who saw the film and liked what we did and appreciated how much we got with how much we spent. It was a very low budget film and we shot a pretty large size movie. Unfortunately none of those people are the purse-string keepers."
"We made this film not as a step to make something else. We felt that we really worked on it forever, it was a story we wanted to tell, we told ourselves 15 years from now we can look back and say this is the film we wanted."
Can He Play Rural?
"Alex had the difficult part of meeting David Morse cold. David is not the most open guy. He’s not unwelcoming, but he’s very reserved. David will just check you out. He’ll make sure you’re bona fide. David sort of warmed up. He’s like, ‘I played bass in high school.’ And then it turns out he had twin sons. Finally it was like ‘this is a character I can sink my teeth into.’ That was like 3 years before we made the movie."
"Finding Ryan took a while. When we auditioned him we had never heard of nor seen him. He had done this film The Believer but it hadn’t come out. In fact we didn’t see it until like the last week of the shoot. He was like ‘You guys want to check out this film I did right before yours?’ We were like ‘Which one is you?’ He’s so the other way in the film."
"He’s from a small town in Canada, so he got it. We didn’t have to think twice about can he play rural, he just could."
"We’re twins so we grew up doing this. We made comic books, we made super 8 movies, we wrote plays, we were always collaborating. We wrote a novel together, a 22-page baseball novel in sixth grade. So it’s kind of second-hand nature for us. It gets to the point where we can’t actually tell who wrote which line. You have to have a real good trust, which we have, and a similar aesthetic."