South By Southwest 2014 Interview – THE WINDING STREAM director Beth Harrington
By Jason Whyte
Posted 03/07/14 16:17:17
“The saga of the family at the heart of American roots music – The Carters and the Cashes.” Director Beth Harrington on her film “The Winding Stream” which screens at this year's South By Southwest Film Festival.
Is this your first SxSW/Austin experience and are you going to attend your screenings?
It is my third time with a film at SXSW. I’ve attended in 1996 with my film “The Blinking Madonna & Other Miracles” and again in 2002 with my film “|Welcome to the Club - The Women of Rockabilly.” I will be attending my screening of “The Winding Stream” on Saturday, March 15 at the Alamo Drafthouse Ritz Theater.
What do you love the most about showing movies in Austin and Austin in general?
Austin’s obviously a great music city. 6th Street is like a candy store for a music lover. And I am a filmmaker and a musician and a filmmaker who makes music movies. I’m in heaven in Austin.
Tell me a bit about your background and how you became a filmmaker. Also what have you worked on in the past?
I have been making documentaries since 1980 when making indie film was less trendy than it is now. I have produced and directed over a dozen feature-length documentaries and associate produced another eight. All but three of these have been on American public television. My work has received seven regional and two national Emmy nominations. My last music documentary, “Welcome to the Club – The Women of Rockabilly”, was nominated for a Grammy Award in the Music Documentary category.
How did this whole project come together from your perspective?
This has been the most challenging film I’ve ever made when I thought it was going to be the easiest. That was my first mistake! But in retrospect it took the path it was supposed to take. It took a long time to make so that it could be the best, most definitive portrait of this musical family.
What was the biggest challenge, or challenges, in making the film?
Raising money. It’s always about raising money. Making historical music documentaries is very expensive; the rights to songs, photos and footage cost as much if not more than the actual production costs. So to me coming up with the finds trumps any of the other challenges of making the film.
If you had to pick a single favourite moment out of the entire production, what would it be?
My favorite moment was interviewing Johnny Cash who was open and animated and touching and funny, even while it was clear he was very ill. He’d just come home from the hospital when we interviewed him and we were sure he’d want to cancel the shoot. But he insisted on doing it because, I believe, it afforded him an opportunity to talk about his late wife June and his beloved mother-in-law Maybelle Carter. It was one of the most exciting interviews I’ve ever done.
What keeps you going while making a movie? What drives you?
I have never given up on a film no matter how difficult and I wasn’t going to let this be the one I had to abandon. My shining characteristic as a filmmaker is perseverance. If people have entrusted a story to me I will hang in there until I tell it properly.
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.
I always have a close working relationship with my crew. I have been working with the same people for many years. I have specific things I know I want but I always give my cameraman the freedom to go for new things and experiment. Then we’re both happy. The movie was shot on every format of HD invented in the last decade because it took so long to make and technology kept changing and different things became more accessible to me.
What are you looking forward to the most about showing your movie at SxSW?
It will be the culmination of over a decade’s worth of work on this film. I am just looking forward to the psychological thrill of getting to the finish line and celebrating with my team and supporters.
After the film screens at South By Southwest, where is the film going to show next? Anywhere you would like it to screen?
It’s going to a number of festivals including Cleveland International, Atlanta, Nashville, and a tour of independent film called The Southern Circuit. We have other screenings up ahead that we can’t announce yet but the floodgates are definitely open now that SXSW gave the film its stamp of approval.
If you could show this movie in any cinema in the world, which one would you choose and why?
It would be nice to show it in the Paramount Theater in Bristol, Tennessee, the city where the Carter Family was discovered in 1927.
What would you say or do to someone who is talking or texting during a screening of your film?
Nothing. Once my film’s screening, I can’t control the audience reaction. I’d hope the film is good enough to keep someone’s attention. But I recognize we’re up against new technologies and a more distracted movie-goer. That’s how things go.
There are a lot of up and coming filmmakers both at SxSW and reading our site. What would you want to tell them if they are aspiring to become a filmmaker?
I’d say make sure you really want this because it’s not easy. Your commitment has to be steadfast. And a lot of the time it’s slow going; one foot in front of the other day after day after day. If you’ve got that work ethic and dedication then you’ll be fine.
This is one of the many films screening at the 2014 SXSW in Austin, Texas between March 7-15. For more information on the film’s screening, point your browser to www.sxsw.com/film.
Jason Whyte, efilmcritic.com
Twitter: @jasonwhyte / Facebook: jasonwhyte / Instagram: jasonrcwhyte