by Jason Whyte
AMERICAN FABLE - Out now via IFC Midnight!
One of my biggest regrets of South By Southwest 2016 was missing the World Premiere of Anne Hamilton's AMERICAN FABLE which was one of the most acclaimed and talked about movies at SxSW last year. Just released by IFC Midnight in a platform North American release in both theaters and digital format, audiences now to see a unique American indie film.
After finally getting a chance to sit down and see the film a few weeks ago, I discovered that AMERICAN FABLE is a gorgeous, unique look at the 1980s American mid-west through the eyes of Gitty (Peyton Kennedy), an 11 year old who has a lot to deal with in her life. She discovers a man (Richard Schiff) living in her farm's silo and quickly realizes he is being kept captive by her father to save the farm along with some unexpected fantasy elements coming her way.
Part fantasy, part rural drama, AMERICAN FABLE works throughout with its classical storytelling and feels more old-fashioned than most recent festival films I have seen, and while I loved the entire cast (Richard Schiff is a standout, Kip Pardue is terrific in a mature performance along with Gavin McIntosh as Gitty's brother), the movie also showcases one of the best youth performances in recent memory in 13 year old Peyton Kennedy, who is incredible to watch as Gitty, its title character. I also featured Peyton on our site when she spoke with me about LAVENDER at the 2016 Vancouver International Film Festival and she is a terrific talent to keep an eye on.
I caught up with director Anne Hamilton and producer Kishori Rajan whom I both interviewed ahead of SxSW in March 2016 without having seen the film at that point, and as well followed up with Peyton about the upcoming release and their journey with the film since its SxSW screening last March.
Let's start with you, Anne. Watching this film, I was struck by the unique premise and how the story carried itself. Where did your idea come from and what was the creative process for you putting it all together?
Anne Hamilton: One of the last scenes of the film is of a girl holding a bloody knife and a stranger approaching, and it was the first one I wrote; it was an image I had stuck in my mind for years. That was the inspiration for the movie, and I built the film around that tableau and wrote a story about how they met. The story became an allegory about the coasts and the Midwest colliding and the tension between those two characters was the spark that ignited the generator of the film.
Peyton, It was simply amazing to watch you throughout the movie in such a challenging lead role. When you saw the completed movie for the first time, what was your reaction to not only seeing yourself on screen, but the experience of the movie overall for you?
Peyton Kennedy: Before American Fable, I had never been on a production where I worked every day of filming, so when I watched the finished project for the first time, it was amazing to see how it all came together. Everyone on set, from cast to crew, put so much of their hearts into this beautiful independent feature. I have seen myself on the big screen before, but never in a lead role, and that made this experience so incredibly memorable.
You are in every scene in the film and you truly carry it. What was the biggest challenge in working with the creative team and with your fellow actors?
Peyton: Anne and I had a couple of Skype sessions, then in-person sessions to go over the entire script before the first day of filming. We got to talk about her vision and what I would bring to the role. As you know, productions are shot out of sequence, and all the other actors came and went at different times throughout filming, so we had to form quick bonds to make our characters real. My biggest personal challenge was that I really wanted to portray the story correctly. This is a very specific, important time in history, and as a Canadian who wasn't around this time period, I really wanted to do justice to the story. I was really grateful to have Anne and all of the local farmers where we filmed to help me portray the time period genuinely.
Anne, I loved the look and feel of the movie throughout; indie in roots but such a grand scope throughout with its balance of reality and fantasy themes. Could you tell me about your creative influences?
I took inspiration photographs and storybooks; Hopper, Richter, Bresson, Goya and so many others. That was the thing cinematographer Wyatt Garfield and I always said; pick the frame you would see in a book of fairytales and shoot that. There are also a lot of deliberate references in the film, from Little Red Ridding Hood to Yeats to Rapunzel, to Kubrick to Del Toro to Malick. It's a pastiche and I think that's a good thing. I don't know why people call out filmmakers who are referring to other films as if it is a bad thing. CITIZEN KANE is all references to other films. It's what we do.
We spoke at SxSW about shooting the film with cinematographer Wyatt Garfield, but I also wanted to know more about the uses of colors and how you achieved that with Wyatt in the film?
Anne: We used tobacco filters and cyan gels that pushed the colors twenty percent beyond reality to indicate the surreal and dream like way a child sees the world. Each character has a color associated with him or her; Gitty is red like the color of blood and little Red Riding Hood, Vera is purple like royalty, Jonathan is blue/gray like the silo, Sarah is yellow like the hearth, Abe is brown like the earth, and Martin is green like the army or a hunter. We used the colors throughout the film to show progression and relationships over time. You can see the blue of the silo creeping into the house as the story unfolds, and the bookmark Abe uses when he calls Vera for the first time is purple, just like the cotton candy Gitty is eating at the fair the night Vera arrives. Gitty starts to wear more blue over the course of the film because she's being influenced more and more by Jonathan. It was great fun to work with my costume designer and production designer in telling the story through colors.
I know itís a cliche question to ask but since everything looked and felt so amazing on screen, I was wondering what the best moment of the completed movie was for all of you?
Peyton: I have many favourites! I really love one of the chess scenes, the big dinner scene and the last scene in the silo. I would say more but they're very important parts of the film and my characters' growth, and I don't want to spoil anything! These scenes pushed me as an actor.
Kishori Rajan: The dream sequence.
Anne: Yes the dream sequence! It works so well, and when Jonathan tells Gitty that she's the best friend he's ever had. I cried watching that scene as we were shooting it and it was so emotional.
How about the best moment of making the movie for each of you?
Kishori: There are so many, but probably when Richard Schiff arrived on set and I got to see the interaction between Peyton and his character for the first time in rehearsals.
Peyton: Aside from filming, some really memorable moments were between scenes with my co-star Gavin MacIntosh playing chess. It first started out as practice for a chess scene, but it eventually turned into a fun way to pass time together. He's much nicer in real life than his character Martin, a testament to his acting abililty.
More: My favorite part of making the film was going up in an airplane to scout for the plane sequence and getting to meet all the local farmers.
Anne: So many, but probably when Richard Schiff arrived on set and I got to see the interaction between Peyton and his character for the first time in rehearsals.
It has been a terrific year for AMERICAN FABLE with its festival run and now onto its release. What was the SxSW reaction like, your experiences at the festival back in March, and the journey the movie has taken since?
Peyton: Everything about my experience at SXSW was amazing. Of course, the premiere was incredible, but it was also amazing to meet new people, as well as reunite with the cast and crew who came. Every day was a different experience. I would go to interviews, then see the film, then go to the Awards show, then see the film again. I got to experience Austin culture with my co-star Gavin MacIntosh, like their famous barbecue! I even got to meet one of my favourite actors and role model Tatiana Maslany at a photoshoot. My entire time there was so fantastic, and I really hope I have the pleasure of going back with another film one day.
Anne: The reaction at SXSW was amazing. We had sold out theaters and amazing reviews. I am grateful and proud of the reception the film has received and thrilled IFC is giving it such a wide theatrical release.
Kishori: It was a bit of a whirlwind tour of the U.S. The movie traveled to New Hampshire, Savannah, D.C., Tucson, Wisconsin, San Diego, Arkansas, and several other places. There are always similarities to the questions that come up in the question and answer sessions, but in general, every audience has been wonderfully specific and engaged. It's a great feeling to interact with an audience directly.
The Savannah Film Festival is one of the best-run and best-programmed festivals I have ever been to, so it meant a lot when Peyton Kennedy's work got recognized there when she won Best Breakthrough Performance.
You all are so busy these days but I am glad we are all getting caught up. What can you all tell me about your work right now and what is coming up?
Peyton: A production I had the pleasure of working on was XX, an all-female horror anthology that is opening on the same day as AMERICAN FABLE's limited release. I recently went to the Sundance Film Festival premiere with my segment director Jovanka Vuckovic. I am very proud of the outcome. Coming out later this year is my second lead in a US feature film called WHAT THE NIGHT CAN DO, directed by Christopher Martini. It is about twelve-year-old Luana who is guided through the trials of love, loss and reconnection by her ailing grandfather in the beautiful hills of West Virginia. It also stars Stuart Margolin, JoBeth Williams, Max Martini and Mercedes Mason. As for filming, I just finished principle photography on a project I am very enthusiastic about, POND LIFE, an independent film adapted from the hit play of the same title. POND LIFE is a biting satire about suburban dreams and family nightmares, written and directed by Gord Rand. Gord and I worked previously on the new TV series TAKEN on NBC, based on the hit movie trilogy. Our episode "Mattie G." airs on Monday, March 20.
Kishori, I am going to be seeing you again at SxSW again this year. Tell me about your new movie!
Kishori: It's a Wall-Street set immigrant narrative called DARA JU from director Anthony Onah, starring Aml Ameen and we're playing in competition at SXSW this year. I'm excited to share this one! It was filmed in New York, Los Angeles, and Lagos, Nigeria and has a great team of people behind it.
Anne: I'm working on a tv show with a Hitchcock vibe about a female tech mogul, and a feature script set in Berlin with a CASABLANCA love story and a supernatural element!
Be sure to visit americanfable.com for screening times and release info!
AMERICAN FABLE is in select theaters, cable On Demand, iTunes, Amazon Video, Google Play and other VOD outlets on February 17, 2017; national theatrical release begins mid-March.
Jason Whyte, efilmcritic.com
link directly to this feature at http://www.efilmcritic.com/feature.php?feature=4019
originally posted: 02/19/17 09:00:21
last updated: 02/19/17 09:07:44