The first feature from the filmmaking team of Ryan Fleck & Anna Boden was Half Nelson, which world-premiered at the Sundance Film Festival before going on to win numerous prizes. Half Nelson was honored with Gotham Awards for Breakthrough Director, Breakthrough Actor, and Best Film. Boden and Fleck then wrote and directed Sugar, which world-premiered at the Sundance Film Festival. Sugar would later receive a Gotham Award nomination for Best Ensemble Cast, an Independent Spirit Award nomination for Best Screenplay, and an American Film Institute (AFI) Award as one of the year’s 10 most outstanding achievements in film. Fleck and Boden have also collaborated on several documentaries, including Have You Seen This Man? (2002) and Young Rebels (2005), and on the short film Gowanus, Brooklyn (2004). (Press materials)
Boden and Fleck’s latest film, Mississippi Grind will premiere the 2015 Sundance Film Festival on January 24.
W&H: Please give us your description of the film playing.
AB: Gerry is a talented but struggling poker player about to be swallowed up by his unshakable gambling habit, when he meets the young, charismatic Curtis. Gerry convinces his new lucky charm to hit the road with him, towards a legendary high-stakes poker game in New Orleans. Mississippi Grind is a road journey, following these two strangers as they gamble their way down the Mississippi River, building a friendship that is intensified by the highs and lows of their adventure.
W&H: What drew you to this story?
AB: I was excited about the story of two strangers who in many ways couldn’t be more different, but are connected by their belief in luck and chance — in magic. I was drawn especially to the friendship aspect of the story and how this new connection between two people could be alternately strengthened and weakened, deepened then undermined, by the ups and downs of gambling.
W&H: What was the biggest challenge in making the film?
AB: It always comes back to money one way or the other. Probably the production challenge we struggled with the most was to ensure that the way we made the film maintained the integrity of the road trip. We knew from the beginning how important it would be to capture the distinct textures and colors of each location as our characters journeyed from Iowa to New Orleans, but traveling to each location in order to film in the various cities as scripted was by no means the most cost-effective way of making the movie, so we had to really push to shoot on location in Iowa, St. Louis, Memphis, Tunica, etc. Thankfully, our producers gave us the support we needed to make it happen. It ended up being one of the most exciting parts of the shoot. Towards the end of our production schedule, we traveled with as many of our crew as could fit on a bus and actually got to take a little road trip of our own!
W&H: What do you want people to think about when they are leaving the theatre?
AB: I want people to leave the theater feeling like they went on a real journey with these two characters — experienced the ups and downs, not just of the gambling, but of their personal journeys as well.
W&H: What advice do you have for other female directors?
AB: This is a hard question, because I don’t feel in a position to be giving advice to anyone! But I guess the first thing that comes to mind would go for any director, which is to try to be yourselves as directors — whether you’re in the room with a potential financier or on set with your actors. Sometimes there can be the tendency to imagine the qualities that a director is supposed to possess and try to act in the way that perfect director would act, but I always find people respond to me best when I put away those ideas of who I should be and start embracing who I am, complete with all my strengths as well as my vulnerabilities.
W&H: How did you get your film funded? Share some insights into how you got the film made.
AB: The film was fully financed by the independent production company Sycamore Pictures. We wrote the film on spec and moved forward by attaching our lead cast before securing financing.
W&H: Name your favorite woman-directed film and why.
AB: This is an impossible question! So many of my favorite films have been directed by phenomenal women directors: Ratcatcher, Point Break, Fast Times at Ridgemont High, American Splendor, Harlan County, USA… I could go on.