Meet the 2014 Sundance Filmmakers #15: Jeff Preiss’ ‘Low Down’ Delves into the Emotional Vortex of a Family’s Self-Destruction

Meet the 2014 Sundance Filmmakers #15: Jeff Preiss' 'Low Down' Delves into the Emotional Vortex of a Family's Self-Destruction

Jeff Preiss’ feature film “Low Down” takes its audience through the harrowing examination of a father-daughter relationship. Starring John Hawkes and Elle Fanning, the seedy family drama portrays the arduous journey in which the immeasurable power of love struggles against the fierce power of one man’s tragic drug addiction.

What It’s About: “Low Down” is about a kid growing up in Hollywood during the 1970s, being
raised by a jazz musician father who struggles with a chronic heroin
addiction.

And So It’s Really About: The film is based on A.J. Albany’s memoir (Low Down: Junk, Jazz and
Other Fairytales from Childhood) and as such, aspires to be about the
intangible spirit of memory, depicting a coming-of-age story from a
decidedly subjective point of view. But at the film’s heart, I
think it’s about how the push-pull contradictions of parenting can be grounded in
love despite inexcusable selfishness and hardship.

Tell us briefly about yourself. What’s your background? I began making films in the New York experimental scene of the early
1980s, exhibiting (& usually projecting myself) in the alternative
venues of the time. My practice of daily filming somehow led me to shoot
Bruce Weber’s 1988 documentary on “Chet Baker: Lets Get Lost”; a film
less about biography and more about Chet Baker as an object of
obsession. The film gained enough attention for me to continue on as a
Director of Photography – and in 1989 I helped start the production
company EPOCH FILMS, founded to support emerging filmmakers with
personal sensibilities work commercially. While this led to my directing
clips for Nike, Apple, Coke, Iggy Pop, Malcolm McLaren, REM, etc, I
continued to make experimental films for exhibition in museum-gallery
contexts (The Whitney, MoMA, MOCA LA, Museo Reina Sofia Madrid, Neue
Nationalgalerie Berlin, etc.). “Low Down” came as another wildly lucky stroke of fate that enable my life to find
its one imaginable focal point.

What was your biggest challenge in completing this film? Identifying the biggest challenge in completing “Low Down” has the problem of
too many candidates, from dueling categories of the practical and the
esthetic. Among the impossible tangle of details, and absurd abundance
of hard labor required, everything seemed to trigger the radical
“all-in-ness” filmmaking engenders. Perhaps this, in and of itself, is the
answer.

What do you want Sundance audience to take away from your film? I hope that “Low Down” channels Amy-Jo’s
journey for the audience emotionally — and I feel the Sundance
audience, attuned to the visual, is especially well suited to go there. I hope the audience is
left with a visceral feeling for Amy-Jo’s inner life, and that the
portrait painted of Joe through her witnessing is one of acceptance that they would otherwise fail to get from a more objective point of view.

Have any films inspired you? Some films have inspired me so tangibly that I could feel their life-changing force take effect in the theater before they were through. Two come immediately to mind: Kubrick’s “2001: A Space Odyssey,” which, in
1968 when I was 12 (the first film I went to alone), revealed film as a
language with infinite room for expansion, and more recently, Jonas
Mekas’ “Lost Lost Lost,” which literally expanded my own life experience
through the tactile poetry of its epic storytelling.

What cameras did you shoot on?

We shot on good old fashioned Kodak 16mm using 2 Arri 416s and a beautiful Hawk V-Lite anamorphic lens package.

Did you crowdfund? If so, via what platform. If not, why?
No, and I can’t authoritatively speak to why. I will say, crowdfunding seems a shift away from capital’s claim of
authorship…and towards an idea of audience as producer. Because I
believe the audience does take a co-author role as they receive what’s
been made to them, it strikes me as a very fascinating model indeed.

What’s next for you? After working 7 days a week for a year on
“Low Down,” I plan next to go to the dentist. Then, with a few ideas
rattling, I will try to proceed without the corrupting influence of too
many intentions.

Indiewire invited Sundance Film Festival 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 2014 festival.
For profiles go HERE.

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