On Thursday evening, into the early hours of Friday morning, Examiner.com was invited to a special screening of "Ain’t Them Bodies Saints" presented by Rooftop Films, AT&T, and IFC Films. Rooftop Filmmakers’ Fund grantee David Lowery was in attendance at the screening which was held at Queens County Farm. The film hit theaters in New York on limited release on Friday. Following the screening, David Lowery and producer James M. Johnston were present for a Q & A and an outdoor reception sponsored by Red Stripe Lager and Bulleit Bourbon. Inspired by the film, specialty cocktails that were served included the Texas Tumbler and Bulleit Saint.
With free food from the Gorilla Cheese NYC food truck and free water from Fiji, the event was nice and relaxing. The outdoor environment (made so much better by it being a beautiful day) added so much to the screening that was coming up, which takes place in the farmlands of Texas during the 1970's. The sight of a barn behind the screen set up the atmosphere in a way nothing else could have.
While waiting for the film to screen, the folk band Howth came on to perform a few songs which helped set the mood as the sun drifted and the night sky came down upon the audience. Howth performed wonderfully, with folk songs that allowed the audience to become lost in the music preparing them for an experience they would never forget.
After the screening of the film, there was a Q&A with the director of "Ain't Them Bodies Saints," David Lowery. Due to the darkness being a factor, the Q&A only featured questions from Rooftop Films founder Mark Rosenberg. Lowery gave insightful answers into his process as a director to create this masterful film. All in all, the Rooftop Films' presentation, was memorable for all the right reasons and will be an experience I won't be forgetting.
Check out highlights from the Q&A, which was moderated by Mark Rosenberg of Rooftop Films.
Q: You said the other day, wanted to take a folk song and put it on screen. I love that idea. I wonder if you wanted to talk a little bit more about how you came up with that idea and how you went about doing it.
Lowery: I've always really loved the idea of...the folk tradition, basically. The idea of a song that is passed down from one generation to the next and covered multiple times and covered in new ways. It really all began when I was in high school and I became a big Nick Cave fan and I would listen to his album "Murder Ballads" and there were all these great songs on there that I assumed were his and later on I realized that they were actually songs that reached back to the previous century and I became really fascinated with the idea of how they changed and how they transformed over time. And so when I set out to make this film, I really wanted to make a film that sort of participated in that same tradition and told a time honored story to some extent and told a story that was very well-worn and familiar, but to put my own spin on it, to see it in my own key, so to speak.
Q: One of the things I think that's wonderful about folk songs and about myths as well is that they're often circular and they repeat. And it's this beautiful moment at the end of the film, where you intercut the very beginning and the end. How'd you come up with that and what were you trying to pull off?
Lowery: I wanted to give Ruth a moment at the end where she was on her own and to sort of let her let go of everything that had happened in the past. She and Bob were in love, they were great...a tremeondous couple...they had a star-crossed love so to speak. But at the same time she needed to let go of him and get on with growing up and becoming an adult and moving on with her life. And so the end is sort of a very gentle way of her - cinematically speaking - have a moment to both love him as truly and deeply as she does, but also to let him go. And so the end, the last shot of the movie, is her alone because she's moving on, on her own, without him and that was real important for her character.
Q: I think that's a wonderful moment, there's a lot of moments where the character's motivations are unclear. I think of the scene where Bob, Casey Affleck's character, comes up to the window and looks in. I remember talking to you about that scene. Or the very end when Ben Foster's character, the sheriff, takes the daughter out, and you're sort of wondering if he's injecting himself as the father in a way he shouldn't be or if he's protecting the girl. How much did you sort of know the characters motivations in certain scenes? How much do you yourself, as the writer/director leave open?
Lowery: I always felt that I knew them, but there were certain instances where I didn't feel like I needed to subject my own opinion or put my own opinion on the screen. I wanted to just let it rest...For example when Bob's looking through the window there, to where I was going to state exactly what's going through his mind and what makes him walk away in that moment. It's one of those things where I sort of have my idea of it, I know Casey had his idea of what that was, and we just sort of decided to rest on that and let that be what was. When you hold on the shot long enough you know that you're supposed to read into it to some extent. And so we're just holding on, just long enough, to let the audience form their own opinions and then the story keeps going. And the interesting thing about that last shot of Ben, who walks out with the girl...I had two images in my mind when I first came up with the story. One was a man walking out of the woods, completed dwarfed by the nature around him, which ended up being Bob escaping from prison. And then an image of that same man carrying a little girl in his arms away from something, something bad. Those were the two images I had in my mind. And they both wound up in the movie, but that second image, the character changed. That was an important turning point in the story development from when I was writing the script was to let that ideal change for that character, for that role to take over and that is something you can read into. You can read into what his intentions are in that moment when he walks into the room and makes eye contact with Ruth. I don't know what Ben was thinking in that moment. I have an idea cause we talked about it, but I ultimately don't know and I don't know how Ruth felt about that, how Rooney felt about that. But it was just one of those things as long as they are acknowledging each other and I think the scene continues, you can read into it what you want.
Q: Regarding, also character motivation, I wonder if you wanted to talk about some of the character backstory. There's so many things that are wonderfully oblique in the film. It would appear that Keith Carradine's character was a sort of criminal mentor for him and then Bob says, "Well I used to be the devil." How much of a devil was he? How much was Keith involved with it?
Lowery: Keith Carradine's character is sort of like a Fagin character. He's like that ringleader who had a bunch of kids doing stuff for him. One of the reference points I always made when talking to Keith and other people about the character even though there's very, very little explanation as to what his role is. He's completely an archetype, but I always reference Jack Nicholson from "The Departed" and how he hired Matt Damon to run errands for him. And that was sort of the relationship that I always imagined this character having with Bob and having with his own son Freddy. And as far as Bob calling himself the Devil, he's not, he's not the Devil. He's a pretty poor excuse for a criminal, but he believes himself to be an outlaw in the tradition of Bonnie & Clyde, Jesse James, or Billy the Kid. He wants to go down in history in that fasion, so he spins these tall tales about himself because that's how he wants to be remembered. But he isn't bad. He's not a bad guy. He's never shot somebody before. When he finally has to hold a gun and point it at somebody and pull the trigger, he's barely able to do that. And the second time he has the opportunity, he can't do it at all because that's not who he is. He's not who he thought he was. And his argument would be is realizing that everything he was dreaming of and all of the ideals that he held dear are not realistic and not pragmatic and not going to work out.
"Ain't Them Bodies Saints" is now playing.
Additional reporting by Joshua Kaye.