Meet the SXSW Filmmakers #45: AJ Schnack & David Wilson Explore the Connection Between Tradition and Community in ‘We Always Lie To Strangers’

Meet the SXSW Filmmakers #45: AJ Schnack & David Wilson Explore the Connection Between Tradition and Community in 'We Always Lie To Strangers'

Branson, Missouri, is a tourist destination largely defined by its musical traditions and performers, a draw which first sparked directors AJ Schnack & David Wilson’s fascination with the small town. Multiple trips by the filmmakers, both of which have family ties in the region, led to a feature film documentation of the city’s residents and visitors, providing a complete vision of the community, both locals and tourists, that keeps the town alive.

What it’s about: A story about family, community, music & tradition, set against the
backdrop of Branson, Missouri, a hugely popular tourism destination.

Tell Us About Yourself: This is AJ’s fourth doc feature and David’s first. We met in Columbia,
Missouri when David was running an indie cinema called the Ragtag and AJ
was returning to his college stomping grounds on tour with Gigantic (A
Tale of Two Johns). Immediately, we had a sense that we shared a
similar vision about nonfiction storytelling and also a fascination with
Branson. A few years later, we took our first trip to Branson and met
one of our subjects, and then we started living and filming in Branson
on and off for a few years, along with our producer Nathan Truesdell.
We all have Missouri roots, so we approached our subject with a lot of
love, and Branson gave back to us in spades.

What else do you want audiences to know about your film?
When you’re making a documentary about a subject that’s either somewhat
or very well known, the challenge is to show your audience something
that they didn’t know, hadn’t expected or that will change their
perception. Branson has a very specific image to people who know it – a
kind of Midwest Vegas, but without the gambling or the sin, or the
place where older performers go to have one last bit of glory before
they hang it up. In addition, Branson is a town that sells an image of
itself to the world, an image of an idealized America. It was our goal
to get beneath that veneer, that surface-level truth and find the real
stories of the people who call Branson home.

What was your biggest challenge in developing this project? Sustaining the project over such a long production schedule. We all had
to work other jobs and deal with our own lives and families, while
being committed to these people and stories that we’d come to care about
in Branson. And it was a challenge to break through and gain the trust
of everyone there. They are used to folks coming in and making fun of
their town, so our commitment to them and to being in Branson was
essential in making the project happen. Most of the finished film
consists of footage that was shot after we’d already been in Branson for
a year.

What would you like SXSW audiences to come away with after seeing your film? One of the things that nonfiction films can do incredibly well is remind
us of our shared humanity. Maybe that sounds cheesy, but getting to
know people whose lives appear, at least on the surface, to be
incredibly far removed from ours, is a really powerful thing. Our film
has funny moments (alongside sweet and sad and scary) but we knew from
the beginning that we wanted to puncture the stereotypes of Branson, not
reinforce them.

Did any specific films inspire you? Robert Altman’s Nashville, of course, for the way it uses the backdrop
of music to tell overlapping, personal stories of non-perfect
characters. And both of us saw Andrey Paounov’s The Mosquito Problem
and Other Stories as we were just starting to shoot. That film had real
sense of place, but also deftly combined whimsy and seriousness across
portraits of multiple subjects. I think we’re also inspired by our
colleagues and the way in which they immerse themselves in their stories
over many years.

What do you have in the works? AJ and Nate have another doc feature called Caucus that will be
coming into the world soon, and David is working on a short doc and a
script for a fiction feature.

Indiewire invited SXSW directors to tell us about their films,
including what inspired them, the challenges they faced and what they’re
doing next. We’ll be publishing their responses leading up to the 2013

 Keep checking HERE every day up to the launch of the festival on March 8 for the latest profiles.

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Carolyn Magnuson

Don't know much about SXSW's selection process; however, as a long-time volunteer and attendee of the True/False Film Fest, I do know about David Wilson's commitment to quality and detail! I haven't seen A.J., David & Nathan's film (I am eagerly awaiting a screening at COMO's beloved Ragtag Cinema); however, I am sure SXSW attendees are in for a visual and cerebral treat! I look forward to post-screening reviews! Thank you for interviewing this terrific trio so the world can get to know them!

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