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SXSW ’10 | Mike Dolan’s “Dance” Sees the Hidden Life of a Texas Family

SXSW '10 | Mike Dolan's "Dance" Sees the Hidden Life of a Texas Family

Mike Dolan premieres his narrative competition film “Dance with the One,” a film about a Texas family, in his home state. In it, “Nate, a skateboard-riding, small-time pot dealer, wants out of Texas. Out of his family home – broken and haunted by the tragic death of his mother. Out from sharing a roof with his father – a legendary drug dealer, who is stewed in whiskey and grief. Out from the demands of constantly looking out for his lost little brother, Sitter. Out of sight – and heading west – with, Nikki, the girl he has loved since they were children. In a misguided attempt to secure Sitter’s future and escape, Nate takes on one last big score – one that will shatter his world forever.” [Synopsis courtesy of SXSW]

“Dance with the One”
Narrative Competition
Director: Mike Dolan
Screenwriter: Smith Henderson & Jon Marc Smith
Cast: Gabriel Luna, Xochitl Romero, Gary McCleery, Mike Davis, Dana Wheeler-Nicholson, J.T. Coldfire, Barry Tubb, Paul Saucido, Danielle Rene, Michael John Hurley
Producer: Alex Smith
Cinematographer: Marcel Rodriquez
Editor: David Fabelo
83 mins.

Dolan on his filmmaking career…

I am an actor, though several years ago I began focusing on directing. My short film “Arrow Shot” was very successful: It premiered at Sundance, screened at over 50 festivals, and garnered many European sales and a two-year run on Bravo. I wanted to focus more on writing so I accepted a three-year fellowship to the Michener Center for Writers at the University of Texas. There I became involved in the development of several feature projects including “Dance With The One.” When the University of Texas Film Institute decided to make “Dance,” the producers asked me to pitch to direct it. During my pitch I focused on my work with actors and my understanding of the story. I also expressed confidence that I was ready to make a feature, and had the experience and understanding of how to make the process as collaborative as possible. I’ve always felt the set really starts to hum when everyone is being asked to push themselves to the next level of contribution.

On exploring family ties…

I was most drawn to the relationship of the brothers and the difficulties that they face in growing up and escaping their circumstances. I loved that what is an emotional and psychological survival becomes a physical survival. I am very interested in the unique brand of intimacy that occurs in a troubled family during crisis—the past resentments, but also love and compassion that rises to the surface.

“Dance with the One” director Mike Dolan. [Image courtesy of the filmmaker.]

On shooting and the challenges of “Dance with the One”…

I knew I wanted to shoot two cameras so that we could capture as much of the good takes as possible. It also made us faster and utilized what we had, two great operators. I really focused on the actors, getting them as free as possible. Unplanned behavior is so much more interesting than planned behavior, but you have to have tools to help foster this in different actors and figure out what works for each individual actor. There is a lot of conflict and anger in the film and this can stand out as lame if the actors can’t really go there. I love that our actors are so willing to throw themselves all the way into these scenes. Gabriel Luna was extraordinary in his endurance and understanding of the journey he was on as Nate.

One of the biggest challenges was to find the balance between the family story and the genre elements of the film. Casting was difficult as well because once we had Gabriel Luna we couldn’t find anyone to play his brother. Fortunately I saw Mike Davis on the street, and, because we caught a remarkable break, he just turned out to be a kick-ass actor.

Dolan on what the film has to offer audiences and his influences…

I think audiences will enjoy getting to travel deeply into the world of the Hitchens family, a family that at first may appear on the fringes of society, but on closer inspection is filled with the contradictions and struggles of many families. And as the audience becomes more connected to the characters, they will be invested in their survival and escape.

I really admire James Foley’s film “At Close Range” for its blending of neo-noir crime style with deeply felt family drama. I also love the Billy Jack movies for their b-flick action and fearlessness in being earnest and emotional.

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