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Meet the SXSW Filmmakers #45: AJ Schnack & David Wilson Explore the Connection Between Tradition and Community in 'We Always Lie To Strangers'

Indiewire By Indiewire | Indiewire March 7, 2013 at 7:51AM

Branson, Missouri, is a tourist destination largely defined by its musical traditions and performers, a draw which first sparked directors AJ Schnack & David Wilson's fascination with the small town. Multiple trips by the filmmakers, both of which have family ties in the region, led to a feature film documentation of the city's residents and visitors, providing a complete vision of the community, both locals and tourists, that keeps the town alive.
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AJ Schnack & David Wilson

Branson, Missouri, is a tourist destination largely defined by its musical traditions and performers, a draw which first sparked directors AJ Schnack & David Wilson's fascination with the small town. Multiple trips by the filmmakers, both of which have family ties in the region, led to a feature film documentation of the city's residents and visitors, providing a complete vision of the community, both locals and tourists, that keeps the town alive.

What it's about: A story about family, community, music & tradition, set against the backdrop of Branson, Missouri, a hugely popular tourism destination.

Tell Us About Yourself: This is AJ's fourth doc feature and David's first. We met in Columbia, Missouri when David was running an indie cinema called the Ragtag and AJ was returning to his college stomping grounds on tour with Gigantic (A Tale of Two Johns). Immediately, we had a sense that we shared a similar vision about nonfiction storytelling and also a fascination with Branson. A few years later, we took our first trip to Branson and met one of our subjects, and then we started living and filming in Branson on and off for a few years, along with our producer Nathan Truesdell. We all have Missouri roots, so we approached our subject with a lot of love, and Branson gave back to us in spades.

What else do you want audiences to know about your film? When you’re making a documentary about a subject that’s either somewhat or very well known, the challenge is to show your audience something that they didn’t know, hadn’t expected or that will change their perception. Branson has a very specific image to people who know it - a kind of Midwest Vegas, but without the gambling or the sin, or the place where older performers go to have one last bit of glory before they hang it up. In addition, Branson is a town that sells an image of itself to the world, an image of an idealized America. It was our goal to get beneath that veneer, that surface-level truth and find the real stories of the people who call Branson home.

What was your biggest challenge in developing this project? Sustaining the project over such a long production schedule. We all had to work other jobs and deal with our own lives and families, while being committed to these people and stories that we'd come to care about in Branson. And it was a challenge to break through and gain the trust of everyone there. They are used to folks coming in and making fun of their town, so our commitment to them and to being in Branson was essential in making the project happen. Most of the finished film consists of footage that was shot after we’d already been in Branson for a year.

What would you like SXSW audiences to come away with after seeing your film? One of the things that nonfiction films can do incredibly well is remind us of our shared humanity. Maybe that sounds cheesy, but getting to know people whose lives appear, at least on the surface, to be incredibly far removed from ours, is a really powerful thing. Our film has funny moments (alongside sweet and sad and scary) but we knew from the beginning that we wanted to puncture the stereotypes of Branson, not reinforce them.

"We Always Lie To Strangers."


Did any specific films inspire you? Robert Altman's Nashville, of course, for the way it uses the backdrop of music to tell overlapping, personal stories of non-perfect characters. And both of us saw Andrey Paounov’s The Mosquito Problem and Other Stories as we were just starting to shoot. That film had real sense of place, but also deftly combined whimsy and seriousness across portraits of multiple subjects. I think we’re also inspired by our colleagues and the way in which they immerse themselves in their stories over many years.

What do you have in the works? AJ and Nate have another doc feature called Caucus that will be coming into the world soon, and David is working on a short doc and a script for a fiction feature.

Indiewire invited SXSW 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.

 Keep checking HERE every day up to the launch of the festival on March 8 for the latest profiles.


This article is related to: SXSW Film Festival, Meet the 2013 SXSW Filmmakers