Seven filmmakers from Dallas are bringing films to this year’s Sundance Film Festival, which kicks-off on January 17. We caught up with them, and over the next week, we’ll share their thoughts on their movies, filmmaking, and Dallas. Click here for all the profiles in the series.
David Lowery is the rising star in Dallas filmmaking. He landed a spot on Filmmaker Magazine‘s list of “25 New Faces” thanks to his 2009 feature St. Nick and his acclaimed short, Pioneer, which emerged as a film festival hit. After a stint at the Sundance Institute, Lowery completed his new film, Ain’t Them Bodies Saints, about an outlaw couple in the Texas hills, starring Casey Affleck, Rooney Mara, and Ben Foster. Playing in the dramatic competition, the film already has a good deal of buzz heading into the festival. And in addition to his own film, Lowery helped write Yan Tan’s Pit Stop and edited Shane Carruth’s Upstream Color, two other films playing at this year’s Sudance Film Festival.
Film(s): Ain’t Them Bodies Saints (Writer, Director) Pit Stop (Writer), Upstream Color (Editor)
On the inspiration for Ain’t Them Bodies Saints
The nature of ideas is that they come and go, and then sometimes one sticks around and more ideas adhere to that one. At some point you’ve got this little mass that won’t go away and you just realize on a very innate level that it’s going to be your next movie. This one was just an accumulation of a lot of things I like, threaded together with various feelings I was feeling as I was writing it. I always sit down and just try to write what I’d like to see on screen. Sometimes you’re in the mood for a black and white drama in another language from the 60s, and sometimes it’s an action movie that came out last summer. Or sometime you’d rather not watch a movie at all, and just listen to music or go for a run. So it shifts all the time, and you just try to wrangle it and keep it on track and keep it personal and meaningful and honest.
On the state of Dallas filmmaking:
I don’t know. It’s not a movement or anything like that. To say that there’s a record number of Dallas films at Sundance isn’t to suggest that there are actually all that many – to my knowledge, the films that are playing at Sundance that have Dallas ties were all made be folks I know and work with, and we all coincidentally had new projects this year. We’ve all been working for a long time and trying our best to make quality work. We’ve never catered to the lower denominations; we’ve never done this for the money. We’ve just tried to grow as people and directors and make good films and, over the past few years, people have started recognizing it. Perseverance is a big part of it, and I think we’ve all been persevering for about the same amount of time. And then there’s luck, which helps too.
There’s not really a film community in Dallas the way there is in Austin – my film community is my friends and we rely on each other and help each other out and go see movies together. We all generally have the same taste and just enjoy hanging out. But there’s nothing official, no monthly meetings, nothing organized. We all just do our thing.
On the other hand, there is a film industry in Dallas, in so much as there is a lot of commercial and television work done here, and that makes it easier to find resources and also to make a living in between films. Companies like MPS Films and Panavision have both helped us out a tremendous amount. Ideaman Productions, a boutique production company over in the design district, has been enormously instrumental in getting our films made. We work in the commercial world to pay the bills, and then convince the talented folks we work with or rent equipment from to help us out on the passion projects that have no budget. There’s always someone we can call if we need an extra piece of equipment or advice on how to make a special effect work. Everyone’s friendly and willing to help out. It’s an enormously supportive environment.
When we meet people and say we’re from Texas, they usually assume we’re from Austin. There’s a perception that it’s the only cool city in Texas – the blue belt buckle in the big red state, as they say. In a way, that’s true, and it’s actually a benefit, in that being in DFW is equivocal to being off the beaten path. I like that, although I didn’t always. I used to shuffle my feet awkwardly and admit that I was from Dallas. But I like it now. Dallas doesn’t have an identity the way Austin does, which in turn makes us seem a little bit more unpredictable. And that’s good. Also, after living in Austin for a bit, I realized that I like the culture here. Museums and art house movie theaters, and lots of people who appreciate them. It’s a great city for the arts.
On staying in Dallas long term:
I don’t have a slavish devotion to my geographical particulars. I love Texas and have made a point of setting my films therein, but each movie is different and who knows what tomorrow will bring. The coasts don’t exert any particular pull, but there is certainly a point at which living in LA has been and will be a convenience I need to take advantage of. So maybe I won’t always live in Dallas, but regardless, it’ll always be home to me. My family lives here. I’m a homebody. I’ve lived in LA in the past, and at a certain point I always find myself missing Texas in general and Dallas in particular. I’ve been gone most of this year, working on this movie, and I missed things like running on the Katy Trail by my house and walking to get coffee at Pearl Cup and eating at Spiral Diner (which is owned by my producer James M. Johnston). When I land at LAX, it makes me miss landing at DFW, and all that expanse of green around it. I love that it actually snows here, and the way the trees look in the winter. I remember something Owen Wilson said on the Rushmore commentary track. He described a scene as having a look that is very particular to Dallas around Thanksgiving. I know exactly what that look is, and I love it and will miss it if I’m ever not around.
I’m relatively lazy, and would love to wake up in my own bed and be able to drive to work in the morning. And if I’m living in Dallas and my next movie is happening, hopefully I can make it happen here and hire all my friends.