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SXSW ’10 | Director Monteith McCollum Takes the Road Less Traveled

SXSW '10 | Director Monteith McCollum Takes the Road Less Traveled

Forget worrying about gas prices…or the price of a Metrocard; the subjects in Monteith McCollum’s new film have developed another way of coping with the troubles of urban transportation. “‘A Different Path’ follows a sidewalk activist Senior, a Critical Mass trumpeter, city Kayak-er, and others, as they struggle to make their way through the modern automobile-centric urban environment. Each character uses ingenuity and humor to try and solve their modern mobility dilemma. The film is an artistic and poetic treatment of personal struggle and environmental concern over livable cities. Animation, carefully crafted cinematography, and original music created by the director with cast member Michael Louis Johnson, contribute to this documentary’s distinctive style.” [Synopsis provided by SXSW]

“A Different Path”
Emerging Visions
Director: Monteith McCollum
Producer: Ariana Gerstein
Cinematographer: Monteith McCollum, Miguel Cameos, Additional Camera: Casey Puccini, Andy Simek, Sean Cunningham, Jack Wilson
Music: Monteith McCollum, Michael Louis Johnson, Mark Hadsel
Editor: Monteith McCollum & Ariana Gerstein
94 minutes

McCollum’s path to filmmaking and his SXSW project…

I have a short memory, perhaps that’s what keeps me curious.  First, I was a painter, then I added sculpture and performance art to my work.  In college, I realized that film would allow me to combine all my visual interests with music, which had been a part of my life since childhood. I loved the idea of being able to struggle with all of these artistic challenges through one medium. Film is also a social medium. I’ve met some of the most important people in my life through collaboration on films.

I was talking with a good mid-western friend, philosopher Jim Sheppard who teaches at UMKC.  He was in the process of writing a book about urban environmental issues. One chapter in the book involved a recounting of his experience trying to walk across Kansas City on foot. There were many sad and funny anecdotes about having to walk into yards, onto streets, and in the perilous path of cars amidst sidewalk islands.  This caught my attention as a topic often overlooked.  I became interested in doing a short film on the subject of places with non-existent sidewalks.  To look at how difficult it can be for those that can’t or choose not to have an automobile.  I did a quick online search and found Richard Dyskterhuis, an eloquent man and retired school teacher from Seattle who had recently been featured in the Seattle Post Intelligencer.  Richard lives in NW Seattle, a place  filled with malls and parking lots in a community largely inhabited by senior citizens in lower income housing.  Many in his community feel trapped because they can’t drive, and the infrastructure has made it such that they often have to compete with cars to walk.  Richard had a way of coping with his situation through humor rather than despair.  He also had a way of transcending the topic of sidewalks through analogies he made with children’s stories to draw absurd parallels with how abnormal our society has become in some realms.  Later, encouraged by my producer and partner Ariana Gerstein, I decided to make the short into a feature work portraying several other individuals involved in trying to solve their own community quandary through active means.

Filmmaking is a process to live through and think within. I enjoy the process of exploring the subject through many different approaches.  I knew early on that animation would play a pivotal role in the film.  I began by working with drawn sequences.  Later I found that working with old still pictures and magazine illustrations worked best. I visited the individuals in the film on and off over a period of two years. Miguel was the only character in the film that I asked to film himself.  We talked on the phone about how to utilize his cell phone for shooting scenes and later send me the files.  This worked out much better than hoped.  I tried to utilize the bicycles and wheelchairs as much as possible, mounting the camera for dolly shots and flowing moving sequences. I came quite close personally to several of the characters in the film through this process.  A number of the music compositions in the film were later created with Michael Louis Johnson.

“A Different Path” director Monteith McCollum. [Image provided by the filmmaker.]

The most difficult challenge in the work was figuring out how to relate and combine different ideas about community and commuting into one film.  I found Richard and Michael to be kindred spirits, actively engaging with parallel community problems.  Dan and Miguel’s stories were equally captivating but different. Building the film out of so many different pieces and bringing them all together, so that they work as a whole, in the editing was a challenge. I still look at the film and wonder about choices and changes.

Ultimately the film is about community.  I hope the humor, beauty, and even despair will resonate with audiences.   This film asks us to think about how we live on a daily basis, how we use our time and relate to each other in the process. I hope people who see this film will be moved to think about their own comings and goings, which do take up a substantial portion of our lives.

On inspirations…

There are filmmakers that have been inspirational but not individual films per say.  I continue to really enjoy the poetic pathos of some of the works of Bella Tarr, Gus Van Sant, Won Kar Wai.  Also, the creative energies of Peter Greenaway’s earlier works.

…and future projects…

I have several very different ideas.  One involves an absurd short experimental narrative revolving around an old 19th century children’s game.  The other is my growing interest in sound art, medieval music, and turntablism.  I also plan on developing a couple of audio projects that I’ve wanted to focus on for quite some time.  

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