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VIFF '09 Interview - Homegrown director Robert McFalls

Homegrown - At VIFF '09
by Jason Whyte

“Homegrown is the inspiring true story of a family “living off the grid” in the heart of urban Pasadena, California. They harvest over 6,000 pounds of produce on less than a quarter of an acre, while running a popular website that is known around the world. The film is an intimate human portrait of what it’s like to live like “Little House on the Prairie” in the 21st Century.” Director Robert McFalls on the film “Homegrown” which screens at the Vancouver International Film Festival.

Is this your first film in the VIFF? Do you have any other festival experience? Do you plan to attend VIFF for the screenings?

Yes, this is my first film as a director, period. I usually work as a film editor in Los Angeles. “Homegrown” previously screened at Cleveland, Atlantic, Maryland, St. Louis, Lincoln Center, and many others.

Could you give me a little look into your background and what led you to the desire to want to make film?

I was looking for a subject and was trying to find an everyday environmental hero type. I met the Dervaes family and just felt it was a good fit. I felt the father, Jules, was a great film character; driven by strong ideals with a steely determination not to compromise. I also felt it was consistent with my view that we, as a society, are going to toughen up and get more self sufficient.

Growing up, you were no doubt asked the eternal question “When I grow up I want to be a …” Finish this sentence, please!

I wanted to be an athlete until I found out that I had no talent, then an actor. After that an architect until I finally found film at the end of my high school years.

How did this project come to fruition? If you could, please provide me with a rundown, start to finish, from your involvement

I was looking for a project and came across an article about the Dervaes. I met with them, it went well and we were off and running. We shot in just over five days, so it was very efficient. After shooting I cut it together fairly quickly in my garage, in between taking my daughter to school and picking her up later in the day. It came together easily, like there was a little magic to it. I then contacted composers Jay Ungar and Molly Mason --whose music I had been cutting with -- and, lo and behold, they wanted to be involved.

What was the biggest challenge in the production of the movie, be it principal photography or post-production?

Selling it. It’s a tough marketplace out there these days.

Tell me about the technical side of the film; your relation to the film’s cinematographer, what the film was shot on and why it was decided to be photographed this way.

I got him through Craigslist, of all things. My original DP became unavailable and I went searching and found Arthur Yee. I was looking for someone who would be aggressive enough to get the lens in there close. He was also great at knowing what coverage to get and had a good sense of how to use a wide-angle lens. I also asked him to ask some questions when I was through with mine, and he did, and got some great responses. He is a big part of why the film works.

Talk a bit about the experiences that you have had with the film. Have you had any interesting audience stories or questions that have arisen at screenings?

They always ask how the making the film had changed me personally. I always joke that I didn’t kill my tomatoes this year. I also think this is a subject -- sustainability and growing your own food -- which I needed to wrestle with personally. I sense hard times are coming and we all are going to have to learn how to step up our game.

Who would you say your biggest inspirations are in the film world (directors, actors, cinematographers, etc)? Did you have inspirations from filmmakers for this film in particular?

No particular influence for this film, but my cinematic favorites? How about Sidney Lumet, Elia Kazan, Fred Zinneman, Carol Ballard; gosh, too many to mention.

If you weren’t in this profession, what other career do you think you would be interested in?

Studying earthquakes. It seems so huge and unknowable.

Please tell me some filmmakers or talent that you would love to work with, even if money was no object.

There are so many talented folks in this industry, it’s hard to pick. As an editor I go to Walter Murch’s books for inspiration. Quite the philosopher, he.

How important do you think the critical/media response is to film these days, be it a large production, independent film or festival title?

VERY important. With a small indie project like mine it’s all about getting exposure and building a following. So press, whether electronic or print, are a huge part of how films get attention.

If your film could play in any movie theatre in the world, which one would you choose?

How about Vancouver?

What would you say to someone on the street to see your film instead of the latest blockbuster playing at the local megaplex?

Come to “Homegrown” and get inspired, and hopefully moved, rather than getting bludgeoned to death by explosions and car chases… for at least one afternoon.

No doubt there are a lot of aspiring filmmakers at film festivals who are out there curious about making a film of their own. Do you have any advice that you could provide for those looking to get a start?

Just work on as many films as possible.

And finally…what is your all time favourite motion picture, and why?

As I have gotten older I’ve stopped ranking them as there are too many great ones. Whether it’s classics like “Citizen Kane” or “The Godfather”, smaller films like “Dog Day Afternoon” or “Julia” or something smaller like “You Can Count On Me”. These are just off the top of my head. There are many many more I’m not mentioning.

Be sure to follow instant happenings of VIFF on my Twitter at!

This is one of the many films playing at this year’s Vancouver International Film Festival. For more information on the film’s screenings, showtimes and update information, point your browser to – Jason Whyte,

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originally posted: 10/13/09 19:49:27
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