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SxSW 2015 Interview: BARGE director Ben Powell

BARGE - At SxSW 2015
by Jason Whyte

"BARGE is a character-driven, cinema verite exploration of modern-day life on the Mighty Mississippi. The film follows a crew of colorful characters who all live and work together for 28 days at a time onboard a small boat pushing millions of tons of cargo downriver towards the Port of New Orleans. As long as the boat is moving, they're making money and we are all receiving the products they are towing. BARGE is an intimate, direct cinema portrait of the machinery of American ambitions." Director Ben Powell on BARGE which screens at the 2015 South By Southwest Film Festival.

Is this your first SxSW/Austin experience and are you going to attend your screenings?

I live in Austin and have attended SXSW in the past, but this is my first time going with a film. I will be at all my screenings.

Your favorite barbecue/ food in the city?

Louie Mueller BBQ!

Your favorite beer in Austin?

Hops 'n Grain.

Tell me a bit about your background and how you became a filmmaker. Also what have you worked on in the past?

My dad is a photographer and there were always tons of cameras around the house. I was exposed to image making early on, and taking pictures became second nature. I really enjoy collaborating with people, so filmmaking was the next logical step. I made a short film about pop musician Phil Collins and his rare collection of Texas historical artifacts. I shot another film playing at SXSW this year called A BRAVE HEART: The Lizzie Velasquez Story. (Be sure to read our interview with director Sarah Birdo HERE!)

How did BARGE all come together?

It started as an excuse to go out on the Mississippi River and take pictures of the landscapes and the towing industry. Once I got there, I met the people who work on the river and became interested in telling their story.

What was your process in getting the film together? Talk about your producing partners and key collaborators.

The first couple of shoots were research trips, conducting interviews with the workers on land. I brought a shooter Andrew Miller with me for those, and I would run sound while conducting interviews. For the first two years, I was editing the material into fundraising trailers for grant applications. In 2013, I brought on editor Ryan Gould and producer Dave Schachter. After we had a rough cut, musician Will Patterson came onboard. The last few months of post-production were the most fun and collaborative because we were able to find the voice of the film.

What was your #1 challenge with BARGE and how did you over-come it?

Access. At first, I wanted to get on a number of different boats and meet a few different crews. It was very challenging to find a boat or a company that would allow access to their boats. Eventually, I got access to the m/v Mary Parker, the first line boat I ever got on. Right away, the crew was very friendly and accommodating, and I decided to look no further. After a few solo trips on this boat, I got to know the captain and his crew a little better and landed on the idea of telling this boat's story.

If you had to pick a single favourite moment out of the entire production, what would it be? The moment where you thought "I had something"?

The first captain interview in the film. After looking back at the footage I realized that the traditional 'talking head' interviews were not what I wanted, not how I wanted to tell this story. I wanted every scene in the film to be in motion, happening while the characters were working, and this first interview motivated how the rest of the scenes were to be shot.

What keeps you going while making a movie? What drives you? How many snacks?

While shooting, definitely Zebra Cakes. The boat was filled with all kinds of Little Debbie snacks, and I would eat a Zebra Cake probably every hour or so during production.

For the aspiring filmmakers who read our site, 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 all that fun cinematography stuff.

I have a background in cinematography, so in a lot of ways the look of the film was the priority. I chose to shoot on the Canon C300 because I love the flexibility of this camera. It was important to keep a low footprint with gear on these shoots because there isn't a lot of room on the boats. We didn't bring any lights, and C300 was great at handling any lighting condition. It also held up quite well in the harsh conditions out there, and we were able to get an incredible scene at night in the pouring rain without any damage to the camera.

What are you looking forward to the most about showing your movie at SxSW and in Austin?

I'm looking forward to seeing it for the first time on a big screen at the Alamo while drinking a cold beer.

After the film screens at South By Southwest, where is the film going to show next? Anywhere you would like it to screen?

I'd love to screen BARGE in Europe somewhere. Hopefully we can do that soon!

We hope you enjoyed this SxSW filmmaker interview in our 35+ filmmaker interview series. We will have interviews posted all throughout the festival so be sure to visit us often for more coverage!

This is one of the many films screening at the 2015 SXSW in Austin, Texas between March 13-21. For more information on this film screening times, point your browser to or use the SxSW GO App for Android and iOS.

Jason Whyte,
Twitter: @jasonwhyte / Facebook: jasonwhyte / Instagram: jason.whyte

link directly to this feature at
originally posted: 03/11/15 23:57:09
last updated: 03/12/15 05:51:31
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