What it's about: In the frozen woods of an isolated Maine logging town, one woman’s tragic mistake impacts several lives, leading to unexpected consequences.
About the filmmaker: I was born and raised in a small town in Maine and moved to New York City in 2000 to attend NYU. After I finished film school, I began working as an editor, cutting documentaries, commercials, and features. I edited “Wild Combination: A Portrait of Arthur Russell,” “Brock Enright: Good Times Will Never Be The Same” and “Tiny Furniture,” among others. I began writing "Bluebird" in my spare time, and when it was accepted into the Sundance Screenwriters Lab in 2010, I began to think that I could actually get the film made. I brought on all of my talented friends from NYU and other places, many of whom I had been making films with for years. Kyle Martin (producer) and Jody Lee Lipes (cinematographer) are two of my best friends and they were on board from the start. We were actually able to raise some money, and we began shooting in northern Maine last winter.
What else do you want audiences to know about your film? As a filmmaker, I’m primarily inspired by environment and atmosphere. To me, the relationship between people and landscape is completely fascinating. I think this fascination is ultimately what compelled me to explore the mythology of where I grew up. In Maine, the dense forest looms ever present, reminding us that nature is king and we are simply at the mercy of its will. I was drawn to the stark images found in Maine’s northern-most mill towns: a school bus driving down a country highway, a snowmobile racing across a frozen lake, the old paper mill billowing smoke, logging machines tearing down trees... The atmosphere is terrifying and lonely, yet serene and beautiful at the same time. It was an incredible contradiction and I wanted to make a film with this same multi-layered atmosphere. I like to say that the story developed slowly over time, like a Polaroid. At first I saw only abstract shapes, colors, and textures until a complete picture emerged. Ultimately, it became a film about how people find meaning and connection despite the growing sense of isolation found in rural, forgotten America. It’s about feeling stranded or trapped in a situation and how that leads to a yearning for transcendence. Sometimes the way we seek this transcendence can be misguided. I found that the landscape of Northern Maine was the ideal backdrop to examine how love struggles against the unforgiving chaos of the natural world.
What was your biggest challenge in developing this project? Despite the obvious financial challenges that come with making an ambitious film on a low budget, we were also shooting in the dead of winter in northern Maine. We shot on logging sites that were 10 miles into the woods and we lost a couple production vehicles in that treacherous commute. It was also frequently below zero. The coffee at the craft service table would freeze before you could drink it. The nearest town was an hour away so we had to become part of the community as we were shooting. Luckily, they supported us whole-heartedly, and we couldn’t have asked for better hosts. They let us borrow school buses and destroy logging equipment. The police officers even vacated the station for a day so we could shoot there. Fortunately, not a lot of major crime takes place in the middle of the woods. It was also a challenge to put together an ensemble cast that fit into our vision for the film. We wanted actors who audiences didn't necessarily have preconceived notions about who could also fit into the world authentically. Thanks to casting director Susan Shopmaker, the cast is incredible, with one of the best stage actors of her generation (Amy Morton) alongside veteran film and TV talent like John Slattery and Margo Martindale. We also have younger, hugely talented actors like Adam Driver, Emily Meade and Louisa Krause. Plus, we even cast some roles locally to get some truly authentic faces.
What would you like Tribeca audiences to come away with after seeing your film? My hope is that the film is an enveloping, cinematic experience. I want to transport people to a place that they’ve never been, both emotionally and geographically. While the film has a gripping story that drives the film in a narrative way, I’d also like audiences to find meaning in the environment, tone, and world we’ve created. There’s a rich secondary layer that is equally as satisfying as the story itself. I think a film works best when it’s telegraphing its ideas through light and sound in an almost subconscious way, like a dream.
Did any specific films inspire you? "Bluebird" was inspired by a wide range of filmmakers, from Robert Altman
and Ingmar Bergman to Claire Denis. Some of the films I referred to when
we were shooting were Tender Mercies, Paris Texas, Silent Light, and
Silkwood. I was also thinking a lot about Raymond Carver and Sam Shepard
as I was writing.
What do you have in the works? I’m developing a few different projects at the moment. There is an original screenplay as well as some adaptations in the works. I’m excited to start exploring another world as rich as the one in Bluebird.
Indiewire invited Tribeca 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 2013 festival.