Your documentary “Stray Dog” gives a fascinating slice of the lives of motorcycle-rider veterans and the role played by both religion and poverty. But you had so many choices you could’ve made. Why this one?
Simultaneous to making “Stray Dog” we did go through a couple of cycles on coming really close —
That was one. There was a script that we really loved that was set in Baltimore, that we worked really hard on. It will come back as something.
I’m interested. That film was special in the sense that we said we couldn’t find the ending — that was an “us” decision — and yet the process was magnificent. I think it’s Wim Wenders who talked about wanting to create this project where he asked other filmmakers to make a compendium of films that never got made. Like, you saw the whole film in your head as a filmmaker, and they never just made it on. “Baltimore” was one of those cycles — where the learning curve was huge, where there was a lot of fulfillment. There was a lot of documentation that happened: we did a lot of oral recording and a lot of transcripts were made. Material was gathered.
It was urban survival. It was. It was loosely based on a tale from East Baltimore — a real-life set of stories from East Baltimore. So it was very much, almost like what happened in the neighborhoods of “The Wire” ten years later. Not just a continuation, but trying to go deeper — go deeper on family life, on the insides. No cops, you know. It was a very different telling.
It would be very appropriate. I never… I don’t want to be dogmatic, but sometimes it just feels good, you know? But I never want to be in that position where I’m spending anything near the budget of a pre-school program or a lunch program to make a movie. For certain subject matters it has to be really humble, just to be commensurate of what you’re trying to make the movie about. We just started filming “Stray Dog” really close to the finishing of “Winter’s Bone,” down in Southern Missouri. And that was ongoing.
Eventually, to finish it, it takes over. That becomes the central focus. And there’s a novel out of the Pacific Northwest; there’s two novel adaptations.
That fell through. That one I really loved.
Yeah. After you’re unattached, it’s their property. It’s better to talk to the writer’s rep, or even the writer herself, about how that contract works. I think we still face this issue. I feel like reality TV has thrown a difficult wrench in the system– on the programming and making side, and on the curating side– a big wrench, which is that we now have a higher threshold for salacious. We have a higher threshold, unprecedented, for fast, cheap, and out of control.
You know, I’m very scared that, still, we don’t like really intelligent, working-class characters. And that poor people, when they’re going to be portrayed, there’s got to be something ultra-badass. It’s got to be almost disparaging. We’ve gotten to a place where, even to see bad things that people do — I don’t mean difficult, complicated things that people do — but what’s shocking. We’ve seen it all now. I fear inurement. I fear that we will become inured to the idea of what it really means to have complicated things with economics in families’ lives. That we will become inured to what it really means to try to extricate yourself from a chemical dependancy. We’re exhausting subjects.
The money-making career is very difficult.
For a woman especially.
A film career. There are documentaries that will just save your life and be the conduit to the art form you started out loving. The artform of being in the producing mode — being able to go places and film things that wow you, delight you, stimulate you, come home with that footage, being able to work with that footage. No one has a green light when they start a documentary — not ever. You know, it may be a slow-burn if there’s no funding, but that’s the one thing that reminds me of Oppenheimer: “No one’s going to give you your freedom — you’re going to have to take it.” And documentary is that fur-lined tea cup.
Do you feel identified, now, as a doc filmmaker, or are you still a fiction filmmaker?
That’s where I will always be drawn. Where some of my ardor for docs comes is: “Oh, shit, I could’ve never written that. That’s just so exquisite. Who knew?” It’s the “who knew?” And partly it’s: “Who knew that it would be such a powerful film and a narrative?”