Dick Kuchera has been pissing people off for 50 years. Leaving a bride at the altar, fooling around with his brother-in-law’s fiancee, and spouting foul-mouthed arrogance while buck naked—none of this has helped. Dick now faces the biggest hurdle in his 20-year path to recovery: steps eight and nine of a 12-step program. Packed with a cheeky wit and a list of everyone he’s wronged—from ex-wives to ex-mistresses, abandoned kids to slighted pals—Richard (as he now prefers to be called) sets out on a road trip through America’s Great Plains with grand hopes of making overdue amends and clearing his conscience. Silver-tongued Richard manages to charm his way back into the lives of his loved ones, delivering just the right amount of heartfelt apology needed to elicit sympathy for himself as a flawed, but well intentioned, guy. But when Richard’s self-centered behavior resurfaces, so does the question of whether Dick will ever really change.
Soulful folk music and off-color characters buoy an emotional story of redemption with surprising levity and deadpan humor. Joshua Neale’s sharply observed directorial debut offers a startlingly resonant tragicomedy about recovery, forgiveness, and change. [Synopsis courtesy of the Tribeca Film Festival]
[indieWIRE invited directors with films in the Tribeca Narrative, Documentary and Viewpoints sections to submit responses in their own words about their films. These profiles are being published through the beginning of the 2011 Tribeca Film Festival. To prompt the discussion, indieWIRE asked the filmmakers about what inspired their films, the challenges they faced and other general questions. They were also free to add additional comments related to their projects.]
“Despicable Dick and Righteous Richard”
World Documentary Competition
Director(s): Joshua Neale
Producer(s): Sandra Whipham
Editor: Paul Van Dyck, Nick Fenton
Executive Producer: Patrick Milling Smith, Brian Carmody, Richard Packer, Jani Guest
Responses courtesy of “Despicable Dick and Righteous Richard” director Joshua Neale.
Any single moment that lead to you becoming a filmmaker?
I don’t think there was one single moment, more a series of inspirations… Like watching “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off” and “Rumble Fish” as a kid; an English teacher who taught me to appreciate “Bladerunner” at the same level as Shakespeare; making my first documentary about my Grandmother; being lucky enough to assist a filmmaker I really loved, Pawel Pawelikowski.
I keep discovering things that lure me to be a filmmaker – someone else’s film that’s just brilliant, a piece of music, a short story, a real life character…
Richard is actually the Dad of a good friend of mine, Kelli, who appears in the film. I’d visited her in San Francisco and between her and her old friends from SD I heard incredible tales of ‘Dick’ and his bizarre behavior. He seemed liked a character from one of the great American novels or movies. Larger than life, both hero and anti-hero.
So I took my camera and went to stay with him at his ‘Portable Ranch House’ in the Black Hills. I was instantly sucked in by Richard and his world. The landscapes, his colorful history, his interaction with the people around him, the other characters in his life. It was all there – women, guns, religion, drugs, booze. There was no end to the tales of Dick’s misdeeds and bizarre behavior. A lot of it very funny, almost admirable, more of it shockingly selfish and undeniably painful to those involved. Never a dull moment that’s for sure.
As I spent more time with him I discovered that self-improvement and his 12 step program were a big part of his life. But he was still estranged from many of the people who were once close to him. Richard wanted to go on a journey to make amends and let me come along for the ride.
A love of road movies…
I’ve always loved the tradition of American road movies from “Easy Rider” to “A Straight Story.” These kinds of films were definitely an inspiration. I shot the film with a drama aesthetic and road movie structure in mind. And yet at it’s heart it’s an intimate observational documentary. Richard gave me incredible access.
While Richard is certainly a unique character, his story and its themes are also universal. I think we can all find something in Dicks story that resonates with our lives, we’ve all done something we regret that might be hanging over our lives, or we know someone in our families who’s so difficult to be close to.
But if people are looking for a straightforward redemption tale, they won’t get it with Richard and it’s not the film I wanted to make. Life isn’t always like that and I think it’s much more interesting to let the audience draw their own conclusions.
Never a dull moment…
When you get sucked into Richard’s world there is never a dull moment whether you like it or not. One thing we filmed that was really quite bizarre was the day we arrived home after a day’s filming with Richard, and his current girlfriend Barb said she had found his dog, Bodie that had been missing for four months. She led us out back to the dog pen and sent Richard into the kennel to look. Richard called for Bodie before backing out gagging and we see he’s holding a dog’s front legs. It turns out Bodie had been dead for months, frozen in the cold Dakotan winter and only now in spring beginning to thaw out. After a moments respect Richard calls over a next door neighbor and says he wants to show her a trick he taught his dog. ‘Play dead Bodie.’ That one didn’t make the cut but it will certainly be in the DVD extras.