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CineVegas '05 Interview ('Trona' Director David Fenster)

by Erik Childress

"Trona was never the easiest movie to pitch, probably due to the fact that it’s not very plot driven," says director David Fenster. "To explain the project to people that I was trying to recruit help from, I would use a slideshow and super 8 film of the locations and a fictional journal that I had written in the voice of the protagonist, along with the script, so they would understand what I was trying to do."

Anyway, early on our protagonist finds himself in the middle of the desert. He makes his way back to civilization in the form of a nearly vacant factory town where he meets some of the locals and discovers his fascination for junkyards. After a bit of deliberation he decides to stay in the area and buys his own junkyard, abandoning his former life, which included a wife we briefly meet in a telephone conversation. After becoming bored and frustrated and lonely in his new life, he goes into a slightly larger nearby town in search of another lifestyle and finds it in the form of a Robitussin drinking waitress and her brother. The film plays close attention to the landscapes and objects that surround the protagonist. Trona moves at a slow pace that enables the kind of details that normally go unnoticed to take a more prominent position and these details end up driving the story.

When you were 14 years old, if someone asked you what you wanted to be when you grew up, what would your answer have been?

DAVID: At twelve I would have said an architect, at 14 I was completely devoid of ambition and stayed that way until I was 18 or 19.

How did you get started in filmmaking?

DAVID: The idea of making movies kind of struck me as I was daydreaming in an undergraduate English class. The first film class I took was taught by a man named Scott Nygren who showed us experimental films and videos by people like Sadie Benning and Gary Hill and Jem Cohen. I had no idea these kinds of things existed and they were inspiring and greatly informed my first works. I think it was a good introduction to the medium for me.

How did you get your film started? How did you go from script to finished product?

DAVID: I spent as much time as I could one summer in the town of Trona, meeting and talking to people and photographing locations. I was simultaneously writing the fictional journal I mentioned earlier. Then I wrote the script and made the slideshow/super 8 short film, I also mentioned earlier, that outlined the visual style and tone of the film. Then I prepared for a few months and made the film.

When you were in pre-production, did you find yourself watching other great movies in preparation?

DAVID: There are plenty of great movies that influenced the film but nothing that I kept referencing while in pre-production. “La Notte” and “Badlands” were a big influence. I actually saw/read three things after I finished the film which I wished I had seen/read beforehand. The book “Concrete Island” by J.G. Ballard and the films “Gerry” and “Five Easy Pieces”.

Name the three directors working today that you most admire.

DAVID: Lisandro Alonso the Argentinian director who made “LA Libertad” and “Los Muertos”. It’s a huge bummer that it’s so difficult to see his films in the US, hopefully they will be available on DVD soon

Lars Von Trier

James Benning, Hartmut Bitomsky, and Thom Anderson. Which may be a bit of brown nosing as they were all my professors, but they were each very influential and I really love their films.

How have things changed for you since your film started playing on the festival circuit? If this is your first acceptance into a film festival, describe what that's like and your thoughts about CineVegas. What are you looking forward to most during your CineVegas experience?

DAVID: My film hasn’t played in the US yet, CineVegas is the US premiere. Things haven’t changed so far, but I hope the exposure from these upcoming festivals will make it a little bit easier to make my next film.

When you were shooting the film, did you have CineVegas (or any other film festivals in general) in mind?

DAVID: No, I was just trying to finish the film.

Have you been turned down by other festivals? If so, which ones and what do you think could be improved with festivals in general.

DAVID: I’ve been turned down by plenty festivals. I don’t know what can be improved in general as I have only been to a couple festivals so far.

Have you seen any independent films recently on the festival circuit, in theaters or on video that influenced you? Or anything that you would just like to give a shout-out to that audiences should be seeing (or given a chance to see?)

DAVID: Los Muertos

What’s the one glaring lesson you learned while making this film?

DAVID: There are too many. Don’t make a 63 minute film if you would like to sell it is one.

If a studio said ‘we love this, we love you, you can remake anything in our back catalogue for $40m’ – what film, if any, would you want to remake?

DAVID: I’m usually not a big fan of remakes and I guess it depends how you define remake. I don’t know I’ll have to think about it more.

Two parter – name an actor you'd KILL to work with, and then name an actor in your own film that you really think is destined for great things.

DAVID: Patrick Swayze

Dave Nordstrom, Lee Lynch and Libby Hux, as filmmakers, and human beings are headed in the right direction.

At what point will you be able to say, "Yes! I've made it!"

DAVID: I don’t know if I will ever feel like I’ve made it, but I would probably be very happy with my own production company, that financed whatever I wanted to make and was able to finance projects for other directors I was interested in.

A film is made by many people, including the director (of course), but you'll often see movies that open with a credit that says “a film by…” – Did you use that credit in your film? If so, defend yourself! If not, what do you think of those who do?

DAVID: I don’t have any credits at the beginning of the film, not even the title. I guess I do use the “a film by” credit though. Maybe “written and directed by” is less lame.


Trona (written, produced, edited, shot & directed by David Fenster) - starring David Nordstrom, Lee Lynch and Libby Hux had its premiere at the 2005 CineVegas Film Festival.

Visit the Trona Website and watch the TRAILER

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originally posted: 06/25/05 08:20:20
last updated: 06/25/05 08:21:12
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