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Meet the 2015 Sundance Filmmakers #9: ‘Welcome to Leith’ Directors Tackle Extremism in Rural America

Meet the 2015 Sundance Filmmakers #9: 'Welcome to Leith' Directors Tackle Extremism in Rural America

With their latest film, filmmakers Michael Beach Nichols and Christopher K. Walker venture outside the urban milieu of New York and travel deep into the Midwest. It’s a challenge in terms of subject matter, but also, at the same time, not much of a surprise that they would choose to explore rural life in the United States given their oblique fascination with the mountain man aesthetic, as seen in “Delivery,” the 10-minute short they produced last year about a middle-aged Brooklyn pizza delivery man who looks an awful lot like Paul Bunyan.

What’s your film about in 140 characters or less?
A notorious white supremacist attempts to take over a town of 24 people in North Dakota.

Now what’s it really about?
The film is ultimately a Western standoff that begs the question: how does an isolated community respond to a version of extremism protected by the law?

Tell us briefly about yourself.
Chris and I previously worked together on “Flex is Kings,” which premiered at Tribeca in 2013 and had a limited theatrical release in NYC and LA. We’re both from Florida, and I like to think that informs our sometimes strange sensibilities.

What was the biggest challenge in completing this film?
Repeatedly figuring out how to get to North Dakota at a moment’s notice from NYC on no budget. When Christopher and I made our first trip, we envisioned the project as a short film we could self-fund. But then the situation in Leith exploded, and it was clear the story demanded a long-form treatment. Not knowing what else to do financially, we decided to cut a teaser and release it on Vimeo to see what would happen. Incredibly, it went viral and helped us find our amazing producing partners – Jenner Furst and Julia Willoughby Nason of The Cinemart, and Joey Carey and Stefan Nowicki of Sundial Pictures. With their support we were able to make several more trips out to North Dakota and turn the project into a feature film.

What do you want Sundance audiences to take away from your film.
We hope it sparks conversations and raises more questions than it answers.

Did any films inspire you?
The work of Errol Morris definitely influenced our decision to approach the film as a Thriller/Western genre-type documentary. Seeing “Pulp Fiction” in high school made me want to become a filmmaker (MBN). The films of Terrence Malick strike a nerve and definitely inspire me, I’m really happy he seems to be working more lately (CKW).

What’s next?
We can’t say too much about it now because it’s so early in pre-production, but it’s looking like a documentary ghost story set in the desert. Or maybe something else entirely.

What cameras did you shoot on?
Primarily on the Canon 5D MK III. We also used the Canon 5D MK II as a second camera, as well as the GoPro Hero 3 for some driving shots.

Did you crowdfund? If so, via what platform? If not, why?
Yes – we used Kickstarter to fund post-production, as well as to create a powerful community of over a thousand early supporters for the project. It also allowed us to bring on the incredibly talented Joshua Woltermann as a Producer/Editor.

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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