INTERVIEW: Here Comes "the Sun"; Allison Anders Out of the Past
by Sarah Jacobson/indieWIRE
(indieWIRE/ 08.17.01) -- "Things Behind the Sun," by indie film queen Allison Anders, is one of the best indie films ever made. It's a story about Sherry, a troubled rock musician in Florida who has a song rising up the college charts that attracts the attention of Owen, a rock journalist in Los Angeles. Sherry and Owen were in love in junior high school, but then Sherry was raped. The movie deals with how people come together, and heal, after living through tremendous trauma and how that trauma affects every part of your life, especially sexually. Two close friends of mine have had major breakthroughs in therapy after seeing this film.
In case you were wondering, I was never raped myself. Yet as someone who went through an extremely rough childhood, this is the first film I've ever seen that so perfectly captures how you destroy yourself long after bad things have happened to you, and how you start to fix yourself when you can't live with the pain any longer.
On top of the ultra-realism is cinematic perfection. Anders' powerfully constructed script, co-written with Kurt Voss, gives even the most bit characters volumes of history. As Sherry, Kim Dickens presents a breakout performance, tough, vulnerable, battered and strong. Gabriel Mann is sexy and sympathetic as the quietly tortured Owen and Don Cheadle plays Chuck so layered and deep and open that he could easily be a romantic lead after this. Terry Stacy's DV cinematography is breathtaking. The score by Sonic Youth is haunting and evocative and the soundtrack is a music geek's dream.
"Things Behind the Sun" will premiere on Showtime this Saturday, August 18th at 9 PM. If you don't have Showtime, find someone who does, and have them tape it. Indie filmmaker Sarah Jacobson spoke with Anders about digital video, distribution, directing, and rape.
indieWIRE: I think this is your most sophisticated film on a visual level. Was that a conscious decision?
Allison Anders: I feel very happy when I look at this movie. I was fully aware of what I wanted it to look like, what I was dealing with in Florida, the flat space. And digital, which is a flat medium. The characters were kind of stuck. I wanted to get back to a very static frame. Nowadays you don't get to see composition in a movie because nobody ever keeps the camera still long enough to see it. Actors don't have the thrill and the power of working with space. Positioning a character in the frame speaks volumes. I completely mercilessly pillaged "Two Lane Blacktop." I liked that the characters were oddly disconnected to each other. I went back to thinking about characters on the edge of the frame. Except for Don Cheadle's character who's always dead center because he's sort of the only grounded one.
iW: How did you get DV to look so stunning?
Anders: We put the actors in colors that would pop, and then when I went to desaturate, those colors just popped out, like young Sherry's pink shirt. It became like trauma memory. When you're traumatized you pick out one thing you remember more than anything else. That was all made possible by digital. I would have never been able to afford that on film.
iW: Do you feel like there was a link between the higher level of sophistication and shooting on DV? Like it gave you more freedom?
Anders: No question about it. I only had seventeen days to shoot. I shot stuff that we couldn't put on the schedule because the bond company would have said no way are you going to get all of this done!
iW: How has shooting on DV liberated you as a filmmaker?
Anders: It's such a tremendous thing for women and for non-white filmmakers. We were shut out pretty early on of a medium we created along with men.
iW: Because women were there from the very beginning?
Anders: And so were blacks and Indians and Mexicans and everybody else. With the invention of the studio system, you can point to the people who got rid of us all. So I always felt like film was somebody else's and I was just getting to use it for a while. I didn't really understand the language around it; I just felt somewhat alienated and encumbered by it whereas with digital I felt like, 'I understand what we're doing.' Now, do I understand when they're talking about shit like interlacing frames? No. I don't understand that any better than I understood film talk. But there's something that's just like, 'It's mine.'
iW: Is there anything specific about it that gives you that feeling of ownership?
Anders: Who owns a 35 mm (movie) camera? But lots of people have digital cameras. I also liked working on Final Cut Pro. It was like, oh it's Apple! Can I send an email?
iW: Why are you releasing the film on Showtime?
Anders: I had a theatrical offer and a Showtime offer and ultimately I wanted to make sure that people would see the movie. I didn't trust the way the theatrical distribution is working now for independent filmmakers. Unless it's something very clever like "Memento," most independent films have a very tough life out there. Nothing feels worse than knowing that people didn't see your movie. That they wanted to and the critics loved it but nobody knew where it was because it didn't do what it was supposed to do opening weekend. It used to be that independents were allowed to stay in the theaters, build word of mouth. But now you can't guarantee that your films are going to be able to stay in a place to build word of mouth, so the critics can't even help us anymore. I wanted as many people to see the film as possible. I felt like it was important for rape survivors to see it and anyone else whose lives have been touched by rape. And I felt like this was the best way to go. Millions of people will see [the] movie as opposed to what you'll usually get on an indie theatrical release. I saw two different posters [for the movie] up in totally different parts of L.A. today, places where people stop and look instead of wild posting. So I'm thrilled.
iW: How exactly did you decide to make this film?
Anders: I had gone back to Florida to deal with my own rape crisis five years ago. I knew that this was going to be a movie even before I was done putting back my pieces.
iW: You didn't have a lifelong thing like, 'Okay I've gotta resolve this stuff I'm dealing with in my head by making a movie.'
Anders: No, never occurred to me.
iW: So it was shot in the actual house where your rape happened, right?
iW: Did it neutralize it, turning that location and making it into part of your film?
Anders: Oh yeah, it was complete alchemy. I changed that experience forever.
iW: How did it affect the actors? And your crew?
Anders: Crews have to work around all that energy; the crew had a tough time, knowing that that was the house. But for the actors it was marvelous because actors, they're so intuitive, they almost get fueled by things like that.
iW: How many other films deal with an actual rape?
Anders: Oh, about 10 in the whole history of cinema. The films that I looked at as inspiration were both directed by women. One by Ida Lupino called "Outrage" made in 1950. It's about a young girl who's about to get married and she's raped. She eventually leaves her town, leaves her fianc