Some of the best moments in life come from a serendipitous collision of events. After working with the West Virgina International Film Festival for a while, I wrote a grant to go to the Cucalorus Film Festival in Wilmington, NC to see how they put on their festival. Like most festivals, you receive a big list of great films – many you many have never heard of – and you make choices. This was a weekend of great choices — and some bad ones, but that’s an entirely different story.
Coming out of Sundance was this incredible film edited on a iMac with iMovie that was suppose to be iMazing. (so corny, my bad) TARNATION. It was Jonathan Caouette’s debut film. Like many festival darlings, this was the angle I was being sold about this film – use of technology, new artist, touched by Gus Van Sant and John Cameron Mitchell, in a good way. Unlike the darlings we kill off, there was so much more to it. The film caressed Jonathan’s journey of self-discovery and talked to the audience about his family and battles with mental illness.
It typified what great Indie Film could be. It had a unique point of view. Because Caouette wasn’t a traditional filmmaker, he wasn’t locked into many of the traditional editing and narrative troupes that viewers are used to. He took chances and viewers were rewarded for it. The story was personal and universal. It imbued history and popular culture. It had a ethereal quality and a permanence.
Last week, as I was doing something completely without merit or value to society, I found myself wandering on Twitter – where it just so happened Jonathan was participating in a nice interview to promote @SundanceNow releasing Jonathan’s lastest doc WALK AWAY RENEE, a deeper look at his mother’s mental illness through a road trip he takes to move her. I have not watched the film yet – only the trailer below and read a couple articles on the subject. Full disclosure – I supposedly won a Docu Club membership for participating in the Twitter-thon, but I haven’t heard back from that Nigerian prince yet either.
If you grew up in a completely settled, nuclear family, I wonder what you must think of Jonathan’s films. If somehow you see the frustration and confusion like a small child sees the animals at the zoo. Interesting and yet distant from the world you’re familiar. Having a very dysfunctional, emotionally and physically distorted life, the chaos and manic nature of Caouette’s filmmaking reaches me on a very visceral level. And let’s be honest – crazy mothers are universal. TARNATION reminded that sometimes crazy is the word for love on the lips of the dysfunctional family.