|South By Southwest Film Interview – MEDORA directors Andrew Cohn & Davy Rothbart
by Jason Whyte
MEDORA - At SxSW 2013
“Medora follows four boys from rural Medora, Indiana as they fight to end their high school basketball team's losing streak, while their dwindling town faces the threat of extinction. We like to think of is as a real-life modern-day Hoosiers.” Co-director Andrew Cohn on “Medora” which screens at this year's South By Southwest Film. We are also joined by co-director Davy Rothbart for this interview.
Is this your first SxSW/Austin experience?
Davy Rothbart: I've been to Austin a bunch of times before on Found Magazine tours; it's always been one of our favorite cities to visit. In fact, coincidentally, one of our Medora screenings during SXSW is at the Alamo Ritz, where we performed a Found Magazine show just a few months ago! We've had a couple of Found events at previous SXSW Festivals and always have a blast. It'll be a joy to share a project that's so different in some ways, but still has the same underlying curiosity about the people we share the world with, which is at the core of Found Magazine. Austin is such a cool city with great, passionately creative people, amazing food, awesome dive bars, and a deeply supportive community for music, film, and book events. I always feel at home in Austin because it feels like a Texas version of my hometown, Ann Arbor.
Tell me a bit about your background and how you became a filmmaker. Also would love to hear about anything else you have made in the past!
Davy: I've always loved storytelling in all forms. Most of my storytelling experience has been through the radio pieces I've done with This American Life, and the books I've written; “My Heart Is An Idiot” and “The Lone Surfer of Montana, Kansas”. But I've always been a documentary film junkie and always dreamed of making films. I made a couple of 45-minute music docs about the punk rock/ activist band Rise Against, and learned a lot with both of those films that helped me in our work with “Medora.”
Andrew Cohn: I began my career as a freelance writer, contributing to several magazines and publications. As a huge fan of movies, I eventually I got into screenwriting and quickly realized that was what I wanted to concentrate my efforts on. After moving to Los Angeles, I had some modest success as a screenwriter and really began to study film from a that perspective. It wasn't until 2009 that I picked up a camera and decided to make a short film, "Dynamic Tom," which followed a flamboyant bachelor in his 70s and his quest for love. That film was picked up by Dave Eggers' and McSweeney's “Wholphin” collection of short films, which really began to give me some confidence as a filmmaker.
What was the biggest challenge, or challenges, in making the film?
Andrew: The biggest challenge for this particular film was just the massive amount of footage we collected, 600 hours! After filming every day for almost 7 months, there was an almost overwhelming amount of footage and interviews to go through. As an editor on the film, sifting through all that footage was an enormous challenge.
What was your single favorite moment out of the entire production?
Davy: For me, it was seeing the subjects of our film at the Medora High School Graduation. After all they'd been through, just to get to that point meant that they'd overcome against significant odds. There was simply this buoyant sense of joy and possibility and triumph in the air that day that still makes me smile.
Andrew: My favorite moments during production were the many nights spent with our film crew after a long day of shooting. We were all living in an old motel just outside of Medora. After a 10- or 12-hour day of shooting, we would come back to the motel, crack a few beers, then watch footage and share stories from that day. Often we were breaking up into groups, so two people would go home with one player and film them, while a couple others would follow another player and their family. Those late nights sitting up and talking about our subjects, their stories, the movie, and about film in general were some of the best times I can remember.
What keeps you going while making a movie? What drives you?
Andrew: In documentary filmmaking, your dedication to the material is what keeps you going. There were so many long days, working 70-80 hours a week without pay. Unless you truly need to tell a story, I think it would be very difficult to make the type of commitment that goes into making this kind of documentary.
Davy: As grueling as the constant shooting can feel at times, it's also a thrill every day to be spending time with people who are opening their lives to you so completely. Connecting so deeply with the kids and their families kept me going during our time in Medora, a sense that we were capturing something really raw, intimate, and special.
8. I would love to know about the technical side of the film, your relationship to the director of photography, what the movie was shot on and why it was decided to be filmed this way.
Andrew: Our director of photography Rachael Counce was not only our DP, but also our Assistant Director and a Producer. In many ways, she was a third Director. She conducted interviews, directed the crew, and really guided what the look of the film would be. She made one very important and smart decision early, which was that all the interviews would be shot at the subjects' homes. She felt a casual interview environment was essential not only for the look of the movie, but also to make our subjects – who were primarily teenagers -- feel comfortable, and create a sense of intimacy that really comes through in the film. She wanted minimal lighting, and no set-up background for these interviews. She decided to shoot on the Panasonic HVX because it gave us a lot of flexibility for sound. We also wanted a very "real" look to the film, which I don't think you can always get from a DSLR camera. I personally didn't want the film to have a heavy DSLR look to it, as I didn't want to tie it to a particular style of camera.
How has the film been received at other screenings? Any fun stories or comments from Q&A sessions?
Davy: This will be the World Premiere, and the most exciting part of it for me is that 3 of our main subjects will be in Austin attending the premiere, Medora players Dylan McSoley and Robby Armstrong, and head coach Justin Gilbert. Dylan and Robby have never flown on a plane before, and have barely ever left Indiana. It will be really fascinating to watch them absorb the film, seeing their lives on the big screen, and to see them interact with the audience afterwards.
What do you want audiences to take from the film?
Davy: A sense for what is lost as our small American towns continue to fade away, and a sense for the character, heart, and resilience of the people who live in these small towns, as they battle to save the only kind of life they've ever known.
Andrew: Not many people live in a town with less than 500 people. So I hope people can just get a powerful feeling for what it's like to live in a small, Midwestern town in 2013.
How important do you think the critical/media response is to film these days, be it a large production, independent film or festival title?
Davy: It's very important! As a longtime journalist myself, I'm aware that critics and media folks are key influencers who can help bring a movie to the general public's awareness. It's thrilling to see a movie like “Searching For Sugar Man” develop such a passionate following, and I think the fantastic media response coming out of their launch at Sundance created a huge boost for the film. I hope that if our Medora film resonates with media folks at SXSW and other festivals, that these folks will help us spread the word and give the film a broader reach.
After the film screens at South By Southwest, what is the future release plan for the movie? Where would you like it to go?
Davy: We believe deeply in this film; we think people will enjoy it and that it will mean something to them and expand their understanding of the world. We just want it to find a way out into the world and be seen by as many people as possible!
Alamo Drafthouse and Paramount theaters in Austin aside, if you could show this movie in any cinema in the world, which one would you choose and why?
Davy: I'm a lifelong cinéphile, and have a couple dozen favorite art-house theaters around the U.S. and beyond. It would be a thrill for “Medora” to play at any or all of these: The Music Box in Chicago; Laemmle 7 in Pasadena; The Downtown Independent in L.A.; Angelika in NYC and Dallas; Cinema Village, Film Forum, or IFC Theater in NYC; the Roxie in San Francisco; Cinefamily in Hollywood; Bloor Cinemas in Toronto; Ragtag Cinema in Columbia, Missouri; Guild Cinema in Albuquerque; and another dozen or so favorites, including the beautiful, historic Michigan Theater in Ann Arbor, which is in our hometown.
What would you say or do to someone who is talking or texting during a screening of your film?
Davy: Steal their popcorn.
There are a lot of up and coming filmmakers both at SxSW and reading our site. I was curious if you had any advice to aspiring filmmakers?
Davy: I suppose this is advice to people who have never made a film, as opposed to up-and-coming filmmakers, but I'd simply say this: You can make a film! Don't be intimidated or overwhelmed by all the details and planning. Just find a camera and some friends and start shooting! It's easy to give up before you even begin. The important thing is just to begin.
Andrew: Make your filmmaking decisions and commitments very carefully. Choosing what projects you want to pursue is the biggest challenge of a filmmaker (or any artist), in my opinion. If you are going to be making a film, you will be spending a lot of time and energy on it; make sure it's something you feel passionate about, otherwise things can fizzle out quickly. You may have lots of ideas for scripts and documentaries and films -- but think about which project you have to do, that you need to do. I always tell first time filmmakers, if you were only going to make one film your whole life, what would it be?
And finally, what is the single, greatest movie that you have seen at a film festival?
Davy: Dark Days. Hearing director Marc Forster speak after his film screened at the 2000 Chicago International Film Festival gave me a real sense for the fact that anyone can be a filmmaker -- you don't need to have necessarily been schooled for it. I would also mention Bruno Dumont's The Life of Jésus and Chris Smith's American Job, which I also saw at festivals in Chicago, and which helped give me a sense for what's possible in filmmaking.
Be sure to follow MEDORA at their official website, official Facebook page and follow them on Twitter at @MedoraFilm!
This is one of the many films screening at the 2013 SXSW in Austin, Texas between March 8-16. For more information on the film’s screening, point your browser to www.sxsw.com/film.
Jason Whyte, efilmcritic.com
Twitter: @jasonwhyte Facebook: jasonwhyte
link directly to this feature at http://www.efilmcritic.com/feature.php?feature=3532
originally posted: 03/06/13 19:19:40
last updated: 03/06/13 19:20:21