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SXSW ’10 | “World’s Largest” Directors Amy C. Elliott & Elizabeth Donius On Small-Town America

SXSW '10 | “World’s Largest” Directors Amy C. Elliott & Elizabeth Donius On Small-Town America

Amy C. Elliott and Elizabeth Donius’s “World’s Largest” is a road movie with a big ol’ twist: the co-directors visited 58 of the “world’s largest [insert random object here]” tourist traps that live in small towns throughout the U.S. “Odd, funny and sometimes beautiful, the statues stand as testaments to the uniqueness and importance – the largeness – that all people feel, and need to feel, about their communities and their own existence. World’s Largest profiles Soap Lake, Washington’s five-year struggle to build the World’s Largest Lava Lamp. By documenting these roadside attractions, World’s Largest captures the changing, perhaps even vanishing, culture of small-town America.” [Description provided by the festival.]

Editor’s Note: This is one interview in a series profiling directors whose films are screening in the Narrative Competition, Documentary Competition and Emerging Visions sections at the 2010 SXSW Film Festival.

“World’s Largest”
Emerging Visions
Directors: Amy Elliott & Elizabeth Donius
Producers: Amy Elliott & Elizabeth Donius
Music: Robert ToTeras
Cinematographer: Amy Elliott
Editor: Amy Elliott
75 minutes

Elliott and Donius introduce themselves…

My name is Amy Elliott, I’m a filmmaker and photographer living in NYC. For me, filmmaking (especially documentary) was a natural outgrowth of my job as an editorial photographer.  I think the two disciplines – still and motion pictures – really feed each other. And I’m Elizabeth Donius. I live in New Haven, CT and I became a filmmaker because I love movies, creative collaboration, and engaging with and learning about other people.

The filmmakers on coming to the film’s subject…

Making World’s Largest was an adventure and an evolution.  We both love roadside attractions and the premise we had when we began shooting was simple.  These attractions are invitations to visit, so we would take them up on that invitation and see what we found.  As we visited more and more places the themes we wanted to explore came sharply into focus.  
The filmmakers talk about their filmmaking style…

We just got on the road and started talking to people.  On our early shoots we were really searching for the heart of the film.  We would shoot during the day, and then stay up late in the hotel talking things through –drawing parallels to other experiences, finding new questions, new things to be sure to shoot.
Challenges…what challenges?

“World’s Largest” filmmakers Amy C. Elliott & Elizabeth Donius. [Image courtesy of the filmmakers]

Time and money, like everyone else, right?  There were some really enjoyable challenges too, though. The biggest one was figuring out how to tell this story – a story of a vanishing culture – not through one voice, or one town but through the interwoven first person accounts of dozens of voices.  The most fun challenge was traveling around remote parts of the country with your best friend from childhood collecting those stories.
The filmmakers on their inspirations…

In essence we were making a portrait of a place, so films that do that really well – Vernon, Florida springs to mind – were definitely inspirational.  We both like documentaries with strong authorship, that have a distinct stamp of the filmmakers.  We have a real shared sensibility – which is why we work together. Our sense of our own evolving filmmaker ‘voice’ guided the film.
In the pipeline…

We’re in pre-production on another doc called American Nun, about (just as it sounds) Catholic nuns in this country.

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