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Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Q&A with Tim Sutton (director of Pavilion)

Praised as "exquisite beginning to end" by Amy Taubin of Artforum, Pavilion captures the beauty and turmoil of adolescence in a series of hypnotic images drawn from two distinct landscapes. When the film's young protagonist moves from a lakeside town in upstate New York to live with his unemployed father in suburban Arizona, he faces the challenges of life in transition. But despite dark thematic undercurrents that only gradually become apparent, the film is an often rapturous portrait of one teenage summer. Paring plot and dialogue down to the bare essentials, Brooklyn filmmaker Tim Sutton imbues each shot with the inchoate anxieties and desires of his characters as they ride their bikes, strike up friendships, and experience the last moments of their youth.

Tim Sutton spoke with us about the film, which will screen on Thursday, June 28 at 7pm, followed by a Q&A.

What drives you to make films?
I guess I just feel an incredible passion for filmmaking as an art form that incorporates so many languages and styles and forms and mediums. If you leave out the sales agents, cinema as storytelling can keep evolving infinitely. I watch anything from L’Eclisse to Beau travail to Gummo right up to Beginners and Beasts of the Southern Wild—films that offer you a path into a world that doesn’t necessarily stop when the film ends. When I made 7, the process was so alive that it felt like we were cutting through the frame into something deeper and, in its own small, home-made way, infinite.

Photograph by Robin Holland
What films have served as inspiration in your work?
I mention some above but, for Pavilion in particular, La Vie de Jesus by Bruno Dumont, Ballast by Lance Hammer, Last Days by Gus Van Sant—all films that introduce their own language to the form and create their own sense of time, rather than dealing with a familiar story arc.

What are some the challenges you faced while making Pavilion?
The biggest challenge was also the most pleasurable part of it, which was constructing and reconstructing the story every day so that it would be this breathing, sweating, entirely alive process while still creating a narrative that would connect emotionally, visually, tonally. Every scene and shot is by design, but that design was constantly in flux. This was an exhausting process for all of us, but it kept everyone in it—eyes open, always collaborating. Our production assistant grabbed a camera during a reloading session and captured a moment vital to the story. Our lead scout was a high school kid who had just had a knack for knowing what I wanted to see in the background. At any moment it all could have fallen apart but the process felt vital and full of risk and, most of all, meaningful, and it wouldn’t have if we were just following something I had written a year before.

You have an affinity for youth—could you speak about what drew you to making a film about teenagers (and also about your other brainchild, Video Kid Brooklyn)?
I feel like adults always try to define kids and, well, kids are indefinable—and that is fascinating. As an educator (I run a film school for kids called Video Kid Brooklyn), I’m pretty amazed by kids’ ability to explain the world with such clarity and color, one observation to the next, and then just go into their own world for a few minutes and come out of it somewhere else completely. As a filmmaker, I simply tried to visually describe what that looks like (what they do, where they go) rather than trying to figure out what they think or forcing too much of a recognizable plot that would have felt unreal. I wanted to make something so real and, at the same time, a waking dream, so that the film felt like it could hang out in a bedroom for a while or swim in the lake without the thought of having to get out or feel lonely and have no one to talk to while watching cars pass by on a highway—in essence, be in the film with them.

Can you tell us about the process of choosing locations, what you wanted to communicate in the character’s move from East to West, and any difficulties you encountered shooting in those locations?
I knew that our approach to story and character was going to be kind of out there so I wanted a very concrete larger storyline to serve as a goalpost—a kid moves from East to West, one parent to the other, from lush green surroundings and a sense of safety to a barren, sun-baked and just-dangerous-enough landscape. If we had that line, how we got there day-to-day, scene by scene, and shot by shot was something I felt comfortable discovering as we went. I knew we would find the Arizona kids—but we were shooting and auditioning simultaneously and were so lucky to find the group we did because their world then opened up to us, and in that world we found both intimacy and darkness out on what felt like the edge of our country—so we really travelled through what felt like a psyche of American youth.

Kickstarter has become an important part of how many American independent films get funded. Can you speak about about your experience using it (or other online platforms you’ve used to get your films made)?
Kickstarter has taken the hardest and most miserable part of filmmaking—fundraising—and made it a thrilling, community-building experience during which you can find an audience, make great connections and raise more money than you had planned. It’s like a bizarro world. Other than that it pushed me to do two things: frame the film and the story of making the film for the public eye and, second, throw away any fear of asking for support. From day one I have truly believed in Pavilion as an art film and Kickstarter was a platform on which I could state that with passion.

The film's score was composed by Sam Prekop of The Sea and Cake. He and bandmate Archer Prewitt will be performing in the BAMcinemaFest Lounge after the screening on Thursday. Below is a sample of the music you will hear in the film:

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