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Meet the 2015 Sundance Filmmakers #56: Diego Ongaro Shows Struggles of the Farming Community with ‘Bob and the Trees’

Meet the 2015 Sundance Filmmakers #56: Diego Ongaro Shows Struggles of the Farming Community with 'Bob and the Trees'

Bob is a 50-something farmer who loves golf, “gangster rap,” and his beloved trees; but he dreams of a better life. When a large wood lot goes on sale for a good price, Bob invests, hoping things will start to look up for him. But that night, on a neighboring farm, a skunk bites a pig and gives it rabies. Authorities are forced to quarantine the farm, frightening the entire town. This is only the first in a series of events that begin to disrupt Bob’s peaceful, steady life in rural Massachusetts.
Bob and the Trees” is an unusual, genuine portrait of modern-day rural life. First-time director Diego Ongaro crafts a vivid sense of atmosphere, time, and place as a farming community faces the inevitable challenges of an economy in decline and a swiftly changing climate.

What’s your film about in 140 characters or less?

It is deep winter in rural Massachusetts. Bob, a fifty-something year old logger with a soft spot for golf and gangsta rap struggles to make ends meet in a changed economy. When a beloved cow of his gets wounded and a job goes awry, Bob begins to heed the instincts of his ever darkening self.

Now what’s it REALLY about?

Hip hop, pride, denial, manliness, bar and chain oil, pioneering, forestry, farm animals, idling trucks, drinking beer while playing golf, dangerous manual work in extreme cold weather and all the things you want to say to your loved ones but that you keep for yourself, because sometimes it is hard to express what you have inside your heart.

Tell us briefly about yourself.

I am French and grew up in Paris. My first videos were of me freestyle rapping in French with my cat. Those tapes are highly classified. With my wife, novelist Courtney Maum, we moved from Paris to Brooklyn, then to a cabin in the woods bordering a river in Western Massachusetts seven years ago. Who knows where our next stop is going to be.

Biggest challenge in completing this film?

Shooting through the polar vortex in the middle of February. There were two to three feet of snow with temperature oscillating between 5 and 10 degrees daytime, everyday. I was really concerned about how the whole crew and actors would fare, seeing that 3/4 of the film was shot outdoors for three straight weeks. I bought the crew used arctic army gear from an army surplus, rubber boots that were used in the Korean war by American Soldiers, wool jackets, snow pants… life savers, all of these. I can say that everyone was (fairly) warm and dry while trampling through the snow all day.

What do you want Sundance audience to take away from your film?

I hope people root for Bob from beginning to end, that they’ll find him an endearing character. I hope they will understand how difficult it is to work outdoors everyday, whatever the weather conditions, what it takes to take a tree down. I hope that they will see logging in a different way than the one that’s often shown by the media. Bob is a sustainable forester—the way he goes about logging is actually healthy for the forest. Logging is the second most dangerous job in North America after crab fishing in Alaska. Most people don’t realize that. So maybe my film will shed light on what an unpredictable and unforgiving industry logging is. Lastly, I hope the audience will feel the cold. Bring your down jacket and a warm hat to the theater, just in case.

Any films inspire you?

“Ballast” by Lance Hammer for it’s ethereal beauty, the Dardenne’s brothers films for their effectiveness and realism, François Truffaut’s films, more specifically “400 Blows”, “Stolen Kisses” and “Bed and Board” for following Antoine Doisnel’s life for 20 years (40 years before Richard Linklater), “A Fistful of Dynamite” by Sergio Leone for the epic saga and Ennio Morricone’s music, “Wrong Cops” by Quentin Dupieux for its wackiness, Kelly Reichart’s films, “Declaration of War” by Valerie Donzelli, “Fish Tank” by Andrea Arnold, “The Hunter” by Daniel Nettheim… and the television series, The Wire.

What’s next?

Honestly, I don’t know? My ears, eyes, and heart are open. I’m waiting for the right thing to hit. Right now I’m enjoying reading a lot of stories involving farm animals to my 15 month old daughter.

What cameras did you shoot on?

Two Black Magic Pocket Cinema Cameras.

Did you crowdfund?
If so, via what platform.


If not, why?

We were lucky enough to fund the film with private investors and I put in a lot myself.

Indiewire invited Sundance Film Festival directors to tell us about their films, including what inspired them, the challenges they faced and what they’re doing next. We’ll be publishing their responses leading up to the 2015 festival. For profiles go HERE.

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