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

Indiewire By Indiewire | Indiewire January 13, 2014 at 10:44AM

Jeff Preiss' seedy family drama "Low Down" takes its audience through the harrowing progression of a father-daughter relationship in which the immeasurable power of love struggles against the fierce power of one father's tragic drug addiction.
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Jeff Preiss

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.

This article is related to: Meet the 2014 Sundance Filmmakers, Sundance Film Festival, Low Down