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LAFF ’10 | Director Laurel Nakadate Explores the Transient Life in “The Wolf Knife”

LAFF '10 | Director Laurel Nakadate Explores the Transient Life in "The Wolf Knife"

Fleeing her mom’s creepy fiancé and the suffocating boredom of Florida in the summer, teenaged Chrissy enlists best friend June to help find her estranged father. “The Wolf Knife” follows the girls on a digressive road trip to Nashville, encountering dirty old men and kitschy tourist attractions along the way.

Detouring from road movie conventions, Laurel Nakadate’s striking low-budget feature focuses instead on the girls’ conflicted relationship, revealed by their awkward conversational rhythms and suppressed erotic gestures. Nakadate, an acclaimed photographer and video artist, has explored this ambiguous territory before, notably in a series of brave and unsettling videos documenting her sexually-charged encounters with lonely middle-aged men. While predatory men also loom in the sun-baked edges of this fever dream, “The Wolf Knife” belongs to Chrissy and June. Turning her attention to these young women, Nakadate shows an uncommon sensitivity to the emotional textures of adolescence. Through the expressive use of color, cockeyed compositions, and a provocatively voyeuristic style, Nakadate charts an interior journey fraught with sexual mystery and danger. [Synopsis provided by LAFF]

The Wolf Knife
Narrative Competition
(USA, 2010, 92 mins, HDCAM – 29.97)
Directed By: Laurel Nakadate
Producer: Laurel Nakadate
Screenwriter: Laurel Nakadate
Cinematographer: Laurel Nakadate
Editor: Laurel Nakadate
Cast: Christina Kolozsvary, Julie Potratz
Music: Denise Hradecky, Scott Tuma

Director Laurel Nakadate on her novice as a filmmaker and on why she chose to make “The Wolf Knife”…

I started out as a video artist and photographer. After years of working only on very short or still pieces, I started thinking about telling longer stories. My first film, “Stay the Same Never Change,” was developed out of a shorter video art piece. I didn’t go to film school, and making that first film felt like I was stepping out into dark space. It was so exhilarating and also, harder than I ever imagined it could be. After that, even will all the terror and challenges, it seemed impossible not to want to make a second film.

I’ve always been very interested in teenage girls’ relationships.  I think that, in the moment between adolescence and adulthood, there is a complicated window where childhood relationships are tested and out of that testing can emerge an uncomfortable and urgent story. I knew I could make the film, the moment I met the lead actors, when I saw their faces, I knew I could tell the story.

Nakadate on the challenges she faced in bringing her film to the screen…

Because the film was shot on such a modest budget, we had to borrow everything: camera, car, floors to sleep on, swimming pools and living rooms. I will say though, it reminded me how amazing my friends are and it was an affirmation of trusting the creative process and the idea that if you want to make something badly enough, you can and will.

I only cast the two lead actors in advance; the entire supporting cast was found after I’d arrived in the cities we were shooting. I loved working with local people, in the towns we traveled to and shot in, but it was a bit harrowing at times, the uncertainty of knowing whether I would find the correct actor for the part we had to shoot the next day. I really learned to trust my gut and the idea that all the pieces would fall together and that chance and fate would be more brilliant and exciting than certainty and traditional casting approaches.

Nakadate on what inspired her while making “The Wolf Knife”…

There weren’t any films I was specifically inspired by while shooting this film, but I often thought about the novel, “Lolita” and Robert Frank’s photo book, “The Americans.” I kept going back to the loneliness of transient hotels and the dramas that take place in the in between places where bodies are asked to find their way from night into morning in rooms that have forgotten their inhabitants before they have even checked-out. I thought a lot about what it means to keep moving toward a town, knowing full well that what you will find there will change you in ways you might not recover from. 

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