Monday, 15 July 2019

Interview with filmmaker Dustin Morrow

Straight-Jacket Guerrilla Film Festival will be screening Black Pool

*How did you get into making films?
I got into filmmaking at a very young age, when I got a video camera as a kid. My first films were shot and edited on VHS! As a media artist, my work frequently explores issues of and relationships between landscape/space and personal, communal and cultural identities; the relationship between music and the moving image; intersections of traditional cinema and new media; the actor-director relationship; and genre filmmaking.

*What inspired you to make your movie?
Black Pool is a film about Irish history and Irish identity, particularly as they relate to the conflict in Northern Ireland, and how that identity is tied to questions about religion, politics, economics and culture. The conflict technically ended in April of 1998 with the Good Friday Agreement, but only on paper. The tension that exists between Catholics and Protestants in Northern Ireland, even if it’s now more below-the-surface. Brexit is stressing the region, as it raises a lot of questions about the management of the border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland once Northern Ireland leaves the EU with the rest of the UK. 

I have a friend from Belfast who, at the height of the Troubles, discovered her cousin lying face down in a ditch. He had been executed by the IRA. I know that more than four decades later this image still haunts her. She’s told me stories of growing up in a working-class part of Belfast, walking to school everyday, hurling rocks at Catholic kids and dodging the rocks that were thrown back. Hearing gunfire and explosions in the distance. Seeing fires burning in the streets, marches with chanting unionists and nationalists, and soldiers with machine guns patrolling the neighbourhoods. She lives in America now, and has since she was a young woman. She’s thousands of miles and forty years from those events, and yet the images linger. 

Ireland has long been a nation of immigrants. People have been driven from its shores for hundreds of years, for a number of reasons, from the Great Famine of the 1840s to the economic collapse of the 2000s. James Joyce once wrote that Ireland is a nation that confers honor only upon those who’ve left it. With Black Pool, I wanted to tell a story about the conflict in Ireland, and contemporary Irish identity, through the lens of immigration. What must it be like to feel as though you were expelled from your home? The two men who engage in a deadly game of cat-and-mouse in the film are both adrift, from two different, but both inherently Irish motivations. They’ve left their homeland to seek something better in the U.S., only to find that they can’t outrun the past. 

William Faulkner once wrote, “The past is never dead. It’s not even past.” Black Pool is about a man who allows one incident, one small moment from deep in his past, to proceed to inform every action of his life for three decades. Like a cancer, it eats him alive, from the inside out. He kidnaps and interrogates a man he believes is responsible for all of his pain, but the interrogation is really of the self. It’s a reckoning. He’s been on this collision course with violence and chaos for a long time, and it finally comes to a head in this one terrifying night. The film is, in some ways, about imprisonment - both literal imprisonment and imprisonment to an idea.

*How has your style evolved?
As an artist and producer, I work in many media – digital film-making, photography, critical and creative writing, web media - but despite the mode of address and the tools I am employing to create, it often seems to come down to one thing for me: the strength of the narrative. To produce a media message is to tell a story. In even the most experimental and avant-garde works, a narrative is at work – it’s likely an unconventional narrative, one created through a partnership between the audience and the artist, but it’s still a sort of “sense-making” attempted on both sides. It’s a meeting of intention (or lack of) and interpretation.

I work most extensively in digital cinema only because I feel it is the medium through which I am best equipped to tell the kinds of stories I’m compelled to tell. My obsession with the fundamentals of storytelling has manifested itself not only in my production work, but also in my research interests in oral histories and evolving narratives, particularly in Irish culture, and in media production incorporating a diversity of perspectives.

Risk-taking, for me, is the most enjoyable aspect of working in production. The potential for falling on my face, or for making something no one has seen before that really works, provide for me the rush of creating. I make the pieces I make because no one else is producing them, and I want to see if they’ll work and what I can learn from making them. To that end I believe that even when I am creating narrative films, or nonfiction films, I am still an experimental filmmaker. In the most literal sense – I approach every film as if it’s an experiment. This isn’t to say that I put the audience completely out of my mind. But at a certain point I surrender the concept of the audience to the piece, and let the work become what it needs to become.

*Tell us any strange or funny stories while making the film?
The movie was shot in just five days! We rehearsed it like a play because it is so dialogue-heavy. I hired actors with extensive stage backgrounds because of the way I was going to shoot it (with very long takes, on just a couple of sets, in just a few days).

*The Misrule Film Movement & Pink8 manifesto bring what to mind?
As an independent filmmaker working with relatively low budgets, I believe that any personal manifestos that place restrictions on filmmakers only foster creative innovation and problem-solving. If you have millions of dollars to make a film, you throw money at your obstacles rather than use your creative muscles to develop your work. And as a result, you end up with a film that takes no risks.

*What can we expect from your next film?
I can’t say too much yet, but I am working on two feature films, both in the development phase – one is a comic thriller about a man’s rebellion against the city that holds him back; the other is a time travel thriller centred around a love story.