Indie Grits Preview: A Q&A with Big Significant Things Director Bryan Reisberg

BST

One of the most exciting films showing at this year’s Indie Grits festival is Big Significant Things, a feature-length yarn about a twentysomething who, primed to move across the country with his girlfriend and become a homeowner for the first time, takes off on a secretive month-long road trip through the South, where he searches for, of course, “big significant things.” The film premiered at the SXSW film festival earlier this year with a strong critical reception and is being screened twice over the course of this week: at 3pm on Wednesday April 16 and at 7pm on Friday April 18. Jasper sent a few exploratory questions to director Bryan Reisberg to find out more about the motivations behind the film, and he kindly obliged.

Jasper:  Tell us a bit about where the idea for the film came from.

Bryan: I used to day dream about just leaving; going on a trip and not telling anybody. I wasn’t serious about it, but I had these naive and romantic visions of leaving my job and friends and family behind in lieu of a wildly spontaneous adventure into the unknown expanses of the world. I think they call that vagrancy these days. Unfortunately these fantasies usually reduced into logistical exercises. So instead of dreaming about this ”wildly spontaneous” adventure, I would spend a lot of time thinking about the implications of being unreachable, who I would need to email to defer student loans, important dates for online bill payment, what my mother would think. She’d probably start chain smoking, stressing about where she went wrong — and you can’t really enjoy wild spontaneity knowing that it’s also killing your poor mother. And then I’m also broke so I’m not sure how I’d even pay for it anyways. So it all got really stressful to even think about. And on top of that, I was reminded of some of my favorite films from the 60s and 70s that dealt with similar themes, albeit during an incredibly volatile time in America. At that time, there was a lot to either fight for, or escape from. So it made me think — well — what do I have to run away from? I’m 25 and I have a leak-proof roof over my head and a steady job that doesn’t require any physical labor. So in the span of an hour, these delusions just turned into me hating myself for whining about my perfectly normal, if not fortunate, life.

Jasper:  Is this your first big feature?  What other projects did you work on prior to this?

Bryan: This is my debut feature film.  Prior to this, I made a short film called FATHER/SON that premiered at the London BFI Film Festival and played festivals around the world.  I also recently directed a yet-to-be-released web series called THE WALKER, starring Carey Mulligan, Zoe Kazan and Rightor Doyle.  I do a lot of work with my production company partner, Andrew Corkin, with our company Uncorked Productions (www.anuncorkedproduction.com).

Jasper: Did you think much about existing road narratives or road films before embarking on this project?  If so what kind of impact did they have?

Bryan: I watch a lot of movies — many of which impact me in one way or another.  There were a lot of films that became important to creating Big Significant Things– not only films that dealt with road trips, but films that dealt with similar themes that I wanted to explore, including the humanist American films of the 60s and 70s: Paper Moon, The Last Picture Show, Five Easy Pieces, Easy Rider, The Landlord — and more contemporary cinema from Alexander Payne like About Schmidt and Sideways.  My film pays homage to many of my favorite films from the 70s so they had a very direct impact on me.

Jasper:  What perspective does this film take on the much-debated Millennial generation?

Half the fun is figuring out the answer to this question after seeing the film.

Jasper:  What is the hardest part of making a full-length feature film?

When you’re on set, every day brings a myriad problems.  And to be honest there’s not much time to think.  So it takes a lot just to learn how to creatively pivot without compromising.

Trailer:

‘Big Significant Things’ Trailer from Bryan Reisberg on Vimeo.

For ticketing information go to indiegrits.com/program/feature-films/big-significant-things/

Posted in General | Leave a comment

Timely, relevant, and thought-provoking – a review of the NiA Company production of David Mamet’s “Race” – by Jillian Owens

race

David Mamet is a playwright that has no problem leaving you feeling uncomfortable.  The NiA Company  production at the Richard and Debbie Cohn Trustus Side Door Theatre of his play, Race , is no exception.  Mamet is known for his dark, fast-paced dialogue and sinister plots.  Characters deceive and manipulate each other, all in a struggle for power.  They aren’t motivated by a desire to do what’s good or right per se, but by a desire to win.

(L-R) Nathan Dawson, Ericka, Darion McCloud, HArrison Saunders; photo by Race opens Thursday, April 10th Shows on Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays start at 8pm. The Sunday matinee on April  13th  will be at 3:00pm. The doors and box office open thirty minutes prior to curtain,  and all Trustus Side Door tickets are $20 for general admission and $15 for students.  Reservations can be made by calling the Trustus Box Office at (803) 254-9732, and  tickets may be purchased online at www.trustus.org .  The Richard and Debbie Cohn Trustus Side Door Theatre is located at 520 Lady Street,  behind the Gervais St. Publix. Parking is available on Lady Street and on Pulaski Street.  The Trustus Side Door Theatre entrance is through the glass doors on the Huger St. side  of the building.    For more information or reservations call the box office Tuesdays through Saturdays 1-6  pm at 803-254-9732. Visit www.trustus.org for all show information and season info. PHOTOS BY: Rob Sprankle
(L-R) Nathan Dawson, Ericka Wright, Darion McCloud, Harrison Saunders; photo by Rob Sprankle

The setup of Race is simple.  Three lawyers are defending a white man for an alleged crime against a black woman.  One of the partners is a self-made black man named Henry Brown (played by Darion McCloud).  He is juxtaposed by the slick, snarky, and white Jack Lawson (played by Harrison Saunders).  And because the issues brought up by sex are just as interesting as race, they are joined by their third partner, Susan (played by Ericka Wright), who happens to be black.

The brutal one upmanship that is so common in a Mamet play is more subtle in Race.  There is a level of camaraderie and respect among Brown, Lawson, and Susan (curiously, the only character without a last name).  Usually, when watching a Mamet play, I feel disturbed.  His characters are usually so shockingly sociopathic that you can’t help but feel squeamish.  They seem capable of anything.  The characters in Race don’t quite reach this level.  This would be fine if his characters were written in such a way that they’re given somewhere to go developmentally, but they aren’t.  The language is fast and edgy, with plenty of racial and sexual epithets to keep the audience on its toes – but none of the character’s actions seem all that surprising, and this makes establishing suspense difficult.

race2Race feels like an exercise in how our prejudices affect our perception of reality.  Was Susan offered her position because she was a woman and black?  Does Lawson truly believe is client is innocent?  Is Brown afraid to voice his own doubts about the innocence of his client out of fear of seeming racially biased himself?  Are any of these people self-aware enough to be concerned about any of these things?

race3As I said, this is a difficult script, and in my opinion not necessarily Mamet’s best.  Director Heather McCue could have gone with a much easier play, but this is not what the NiA Company is about.  They seek to challenge their audience and themselves, which is commendable.  This puts a great deal of pressure on the actors.  They were all very good, but the text they’re working with doesn’t do them any favors.  McCloud is the most explorative actor in this show as Henry Brown, who is both believable and compelling.   Saunders is quick and cunning as Lawson, but there are moments where he perhaps could have made the choice to give his character moments of weakness that would have made Race much more suspenseful.  The same can be said of Wright’s Susan.  As she never seems to reach a point where she’s in serious danger of losing anything, whether emotionally or professionally, I found it difficult to feel much suspense or surprise at her actions.   Nathan Dawson plays Charles Strickland, a rich and arrogant man who may or may not be a rapist.  Dawson, an Australian, opted for an American accent for this show, although not altogether successfully.  Nevertheless, I commend him for offering moments of vulnerability that left me feeling uncomfortably sympathetic for his character.

The small black box space of the Side Door is completely ideal for this type of small production that takes on some very large issues.  Race is a timely and relevant work that if nothing else, will encourage a lively discussion between you and your friends after the show.

~ Jillian Owens

Race runs for four more performances, April 16-19.  The doors and box office open thirty minutes prior to curtain, and all Trustus Side Door tickets are $20 for general admission and $15 for students. Reservations can be made by calling the Trustus Box Office at (803) 254-9732, and tickets may be purchased online at www.trustus.org . The Richard and Debbie Cohn Trustus Side Door Theatre is located at 520 Lady Street, behind the Gervais St. Publix. Parking is available on Lady Street and on Pulaski Street. The Trustus Side Door Theatre entrance is through the glass doors on the Huger St. side of the building.  For more information or reservations call the box office Tuesdays through Saturdays 1-6 pm at 803-254-9732. Visit www.trustus.org for all show information and season info.

Posted in General, Theater, TRUSTUS, TRUSTUS | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Indie Grits Review: The Great Flood, Screened at The Nick on Monday, April 14, 2014

cover

One of the things that I have always loved about the film selections at Indie Grits is their desire to tell the stories about the South that have been pushed to the margins or swept under the rug, stories that can often feel jarring alongside the version of the region romanticized in Gone with the Wind or mocked in Bravo’s Southern Charm reality series. It’s a braver, weirder, and more exciting version of the South that Indie Grits is interested in, with a no-holds-barred examination of its past.

It’s fitting, then, that the first screening of the 2014 festival is of Bill Morrison’s The Great Flood, which looks at the devastating flooding of the Mississippi River over the course of the spring of 1927. It’s a beautiful and evocative film comprised almost exclusively of archival footage, much of which was pulled from the Fox Movietone collection housed at the University of South Carolina’s Moving Image Research Collections. Morrison manages to tell a painterly version of the disaster, with no voice over and spare use of placards, that subtly yet powerfully captures its social, political, and racial effects.

The film begins with a CGI version of the flood that interlaces recreated overhead shots and maps before cutting to the newsreels, where there are dedicated sections to sharecroppers, the 1927 Sears Roebuck catalog, levee construction, evacuations, politicians exploiting the tragedy, the unnecessary dynamiting of the levees in the Poydras area, the aftermath, and the migration of African-Americans into northern cities. While Morrison elegantly constructs a compelling narrative from his occasionally disparate material, it’s the extensiveness and poignancy of the footage itself that really inspires—the different approaches these cameramen take when documenting the sharecroppers (some of which was surprising humanizing, although other moments felt like outtakes from Birth of a Nation), the deteriorated film from long takes shot shot from rescue boats, the repeated looks of bewilderment from folks, black and white, who are losing everything and being filmed as it happens. Much of it has a surprising aesthetic beauty and humanity that recalls the work of the best photojournalists, although there’s often a sense of distance and objectivity that can be equally heartbreaking. At times it is difficult to tell whether the original takes have been manipulated a bit, as the water can seem too slow or too fast to be real, and the quality of the footage varies from remarkably detailed to quite grainy. Regardless, the constant shifting of material keeps the audience on their toes and fully engaged.

The film also benefits in large part, given the lack of words and explicit narrative, from the arresting score composed by guitarist Bill Frisell, which was worked out over a series of rough cuts shown in advance by Morrison and ultimately recorded live at a screening in Seattle. Mostly featuring Frisell’s signature tone manipulations and the languid trumpet and cornet playing of Ron Miles, as well as Tony Scherr on bass and Kenny Wollesen pulling double-duty on drums and vibraphone, the quartet mainly focuses on capturing the haunting spirit of much of the footage, although they build to more distorted and fiery climaxes when the physical film itself begins to get too degraded or stark, and they also provide a couple of sprightly jazz during two appropriate sections (the jauntily cynical politicians section and the rapid-cut sequence on the Sears Roebuck catalog).

While the film’s experimental nature means it likely won’t be for everywhere, it’s hard not to think about the power it holds as historical documentation and social and political argument. Whether paired with the study of literature from that time period like William Faulkner’s The Wild Palms or William Alexander Percy’s autobiography Lanterns on the Levee, or with the modern-day explorations of Hurricane Katrina or the impacts of global warming, Morrison’s work deserves a wider audience and further interrogation. –Kyle Petersen

Posted in General | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment