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SxSW 2016 Interview: FREE IN DEED director Jake Mahaffy

by Jason Whyte

"Set in the distinctive world of storefront churches, and based on actual events, Free in Deed depicts a one man attempt to perform a miracle. When a single mother brings her young boy to church for healing, this lonely pentecostal minister is forced to confront the seemingly incurable illness of the child and his own demons as well. The more he prays, the more things seem to spiral out of his control." Director Jake Mahaffy on FREE IN DEED which screens at the 2016 edition of South By Southwest Film.

I am thrilled that you are here with FREE IN DEED at SxSW. I understand you have had a movie here before?

I had a film called WELLNESS at SXSW in 2008. I'll be at the screenings we have on March 11th, 15th, and the 16th.

Talk to me a bit about how you got your start in the industry and your previous work!

I don't have a connection with the industry. My previous projects are low-budget, self-made films that screened at festivals.

So how did this movie come together from your perspective?

I wrote a first draft of the screenplay on 2005 based on news reports. The project was supported by the Sundance Labs, Creative Capital, Guggenheim, LEF, Cannes, and other non-profit organisations but we couldn't get any private investors until Mike Ryan joined up as producer. We shot it in February, 2014 in Memphis.

What kept you going while making this movie? What was your drive?

On a project like this, once the ball is rolling, the daydreaming stops and the process is driven by a continual attempt to avert disaster. It was less a positive, creative experience than a war of attrition with confusion, disappointment, and compromise. The only thing that keeps me awake by the end is a fear of complete humiliation and failure. I lost twenty-plus pounds over three weeks shooting this project.

What was your biggest challenge with making this movie, and the moment that was the most rewarding to you, where you knew you had something special?

I had planned and visualized this film for a decade. So my intentions for the film had rigidified. I wasn't as creatively adaptable as I usually am. But after editing the footage for about 16 months, I finally started to see the film for what it had actually turned out to be instead of what I'd planned it to be. That was a huge relief. It was only then at the very end that I could even see it as a movie at all.

I am about to get technical, but I would love to know about the the visual design of the movie and how it was achieved.

We shot on the Arri Alexa. Cinematograher Ava Berkofsky and I discussed shots and looks and then entered the shooting spaces and tried to match those up with what was available. I would usually frame it and we would set up and, as we moved along, adjust compositions and moves to accommodate time, performance, lighting and so forth.

What are you looking forward to the most about showing FREE IN DEED here in Austin?

Having live, engaged audiences appreciate the film, and to perceive it in some meaningful way.

After the film screens at SxSW, where is the film going to show next?

Other festivals. I don't know exactly where it goes next or which fests have publicly announced their line-up yet.

If you could show your movie in any theater outside of Austin, where would you screen it and why?

I don't have any ideas about that. I'm something of a determinist. Any person that should see the movie will eventually find it somewhere.

What would you say to someone who was talking or texting through a movie?

Kindly, get the fuck out. Chop, chop.

What is the ONE THING you would say to someone who is wanting to get into the filmmaking business as a piece of advice?

I'm not in 'film business' so I can't give any advice. This is just a time-consuming hobby or an academic supplement for me at this point. I teach full-time and try to make films when I can.

And finally, what is the greatest movie you have ever seen at a film festival?

I really haven't seen much when I have attended film festivals. That said, I did love YOU, THE LIVING from Roy Andersson when it showed at Rotterdam in 2008.

Be sure to follow the progress of FREE IN DEED by visiting!

We hope you enjoyed this SxSW filmmaker interview in our interview series for our site. To see the entire series click on the Live Report sidebar on your right. 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 2016 SXSW in Austin, Texas taking place March 11-19. 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

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originally posted: 03/08/16 10:58:49
last updated: 03/10/16 02:55:58
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