EDITORS NOTE: This is part of a series of interviews, conducted via email, profiling first-time feature directors who have films screening at the 2008 Sundance Film Festival.
Screening in the Dramatic Competition program at Sundance ’08, Matthew Stanton‘s “North Starr” follows an aspiring rap star, Demetrious, that witnesses the murder of his best friend. After this event, he decides to escape inner-city Houston for rural Texas. Sundance’s Shari Frilot calls “North Starr” a “poignant and heartfelt urban redemption story about healing wounds born of racism and the kind of trust that binds people together.”
Director: Matthew Stanton
Screenwriter: Matthew Stanton
Producers: Matthew Stanton, Dr. Paula Windham, Peter Levermann
Cinematographer: Peter Levermann
Editor: Peter Levermann
Principal Cast: Jerome Hawkins, Matthew Stanton, Chris Sullivan, Isaac Lamb, Zach Johnson, Wayne Campbell
U.S.A., 2007, 115 min., color & b/w, Sony HD cam
Please introduce yourself…
My name is Matthew Stanton and I’m a 38 year old unemployed filmmaker. How’s that for a first impression! Of course I’ve certainly had my share of jobs over the years, however the most recent job that’s crossed my way was in Janitorial Services. Not exactly high in profile or position, but it served my interests well during the long and often dark days of post production. I currently reside out of my 1996 Ford Explorer since the completion of principal photography last year. Please don’t feel sorry for me yet since I’m a proud graduate of Loyola Marymount University. And with that said I must admit I grew up in beautiful Chagrin Falls, Ohio. Not exactly the tortured existence I’ve lead as one may of started to wonder.
What initially attracted you to filmmaking?
What initially attracted me to filmmaking was my desire to do something creative and expressive with visual storytelling. But since my attempts at getting into film school failed, I ambitiously turned to the stage. It was this very decision that offered me the introduction to performance art. After studying acting for some time, it led me to writing and directing. This in turn provided me with the confidence and skills needed to work. But even though film school was not in the cards for me, I was able to utilize the very same resources. The information’s out there everywhere…it’s just how you get to the books.
What prompted the idea for “North Starr” and how did it evolve?
The evolution of this film we made came from the strangest of places. After working all day building horse stalls with friends, a song came over the airways. It wasn’t the message of the song or anything specific in lyric. What it was that struck this chord in me was this vision of my interpretation. It had me thinking for a while and I’m glad I paid attention.
Please elaborate a bit on your approach to making the film.
Our approach in making this film simply put, was to keep it simple stupid. We all knew that the story was sound, but we needed an authentic voice to present it. The technique for which we would formulate this concept would be to establish a unique vision and style. This philosophy would serve us well in terms of objectivity. We understood that the complexities of drama would have to fall on the performers. But the use of land and geography combined with local resources, we recognized very early on a kind of spirit evolving. This is most symbolic in in the very basic forms of fundamental storytelling. And with this recognition in ways, helped to provide us with our style and design. Authenticity is very important to us so we had to just find that place.
What were some of the biggest challenges you faced in developing the project?
The biggest challenge in making this film was to depend on an industry town. When we finally recognized the fact that we had to do it ourselves in order to get this special film made, the challenge itself was eliminated and we could finally put that behind us.
What are your specific goals for the Sundance Film Festival?
Our goals for this film have remained the same and we’re excited to bring “North Starr” to Sundance. The main objective while we are there and will always continue to be, is to find the right home for our film. It’s all about the film right now and this opportunity can help lead us to the right mate.
And what are your thoughts on the state of independent film today?
Please allow “North Starr” to serve as evidence that independent film is as present, powerful, and just as important as anytime in film.