Houston filmmaker David Pomes was a full-time lawyer not too long ago. Now, with his first feature “Cook County” coming out, and a second film in the can, it doesn’t seem like he’ll be falling back on his previous career.
“Cook County” is a bleak and devastating three-generational family drama about a house divided against itself by crystal meth. Bump, played by Anson Mount in a terrifying performance, is a meth dealer so irreparably demented that he thinks nothing of forcing his 6-year-old daughter to take a hit of his home-cooked stash. His sober brother Sonny (Xander Berkeley) is released from jail and returns home to find his teenage son (Ryan Donowho) struggling to keep their family from deteriorating completely.
It’s a terrific debut that ends up in some seriously unexpected places and earned the film audience awards at SXSW and the Nashville Film Festival. The film is being released by Hanover House on December 16.
Growing up in Texas, where the film is set, did you ever encounter people like the characters in “Cook County”? What kind of knowledge did you have about people and crystal meth?
The story began about people who I have been around, living outside of civilization, out in the woods, down a dirt road with all the old stereotypes: the roof caving in and the tires in the front yard. The story is about that group of people, and the family trying to be a family in the backwoods environment. Crystal meth was always out there. I was never at any crystal meth parties or anything like that, but there were always people where I lived outside of Houston. Those are the characters in the film, but crystal meth really drives the story. It’s the vehicle.
When I wrote the story, there were a lot of horror stories about crystal meth in the news. It was really spiking at the time and it would almost be hard to write the film about those kind of rural people at the time without including crystal meth as a social issue.
This is your debut feature. How did you get such a small project funded?
There’s not a lot of movies made in Cleveland, Texas, so the funding part was hard. You’ve got to have people who are interested in investing who are excited about film and want to participate in their communities. The main guy who funded us is a finance guy at a hedge fund, but he was so supportive and so interested in the idea that someone in his community wanted to make a movie. It would’ve been a lot easier for him to invest in oil and gas or whatever. But we got really lucky. We got a lot of people who had never invested in film before. It was very much an inspirational time, because so many people helped and supported me.
What was the biggest challenge for you?
I was very inexperienced, and there’s so many t’s to cross and i’s to dot. There’s the SAG stuff and unanticipated expenses that I never knew about. I never went to film school. Luckily, we had an incredible crew of really experienced people from Austin and Houston and Dallas who really came through for me.
“Cook County” was pretty successful on the festival circuit. What was your festival experience like, especially at SXSW?
That’s a great, great festival. I went to school in Austin and it’s a decent-sized town. The coolest thing about SXSW is that the whole town is participating. It’s easy to have a small town invested in a small festival, but at SXSW the whole town knew about it and it was a community experience.
“Cook County” was at SXSW in 2008 and it’s getting released theatrically almost four years later. What was it like to be one of those films that almost fell through the cracks?
Oh, it’s really frustrating. There were a lot of frustrating moments where we almost put the DVD out. We almost gave up, but we got a break when Anson Mount started doing “Hell on Wheels” for AMC, so he’s on his way and he deserves it. But an ancillary part of it is that it’s really helping us. In the end, everything fell into place, but there were some tough moments for sure.
If I could do anything differently, I wish we would have handled the film differently when it was done. I love SXSW so much, but as good as it is, Sundance seems to be where people who get films distributed get them screened there. We wouldn’t have been ready in time for Sundance in 2008. We only submitted some clips. Maybe, looking back, we could have held onto the film for them. But anyway, I’m so grateful to SXSW and it’s definitely my favorite festival.
What’s going on next for you?
I got hired to shoot a film in Boston with Parker Posey, who is such an amazing actress. I also wrote a screenplay which I want to shoot this summer, and it’s got a similar kind of slice of underbelly life. There’s a place in Mexico called Boys Town which is just a four-block red-light district encased in a 12-foot wall and it’s the grimiest place you’ll ever go to. It’s pretty exotic, though. The script is about a prostitute who has her seven-year-old child thrown on her, who she hasn’t seen since she was a baby, and this transvestite prostitute ends up raising the kid. It’s crazy to see these environments. I went with a friend who was shooting a documentary about it and I was blown away.