Star Tishuan Scott won the Jury Award for Best Actor at last year's SXSW Film Festival, for his performance as Nate, a fugitive freed man who comes across a young boy and his uncle, both who are sent by a gang of bounty hunters to capture him. The film was also the winner of the jury award for Best Narrative film at the 2013 Ashland Independent Film Festival.
Eska, who admits he is very hands-on, specific and “directorly” when it comes to his approach to filmmaking, has crafted a very unique and compelling story, which boasts nuanced performances from its leads (see our review of the film HERE). I had a chance to speak with Eska, and he elaborated on his modus operandi as a director and inspiration for The Retrieval.
S&A: What inspired you to write the Retrieval? Are you a history enthusiast?
CE: I do appreciate history, but I would not say that I am. I wrote the film because I was simply interested in telling a period film. I usually come up with the themes and the emotions I want to write about and share with an audience. I start with the emotions first, then I tend to work backwards to find the setting of the characters that are going to most highlight those emotions and themes. So, you know, we initially were going to make this film on the Texas-Mexico border in contemporary times; same general emotional relationships, choices, decisions. My last film was in Spanish and it was shot in Texas, so I thought I should push myself and try going in a different direction. Then we were also going to make a film in India in 1970’s again with some of the same themes and emotions. Then we started to think about how we wanted to make a western perhaps, and we sort of decided it would be great for the story if you wouldn’t solve all your problems with a cell phone call. And I think about war, and you think about the aftermath of slavery and you think of all these desolate locations. They all sort of force to this with a crucible where you’re going to have feelings of isolation; you’re going to have families that are torn apart, you’re going to have chaos and danger. People are trying to find connections and away to sort of form these surrogate family relationships that I like to explore.
VM: So it wasn’t necessarily that you were looking to do a film set during slavery, just a universal story that could have taken place in any time period.
VM: How much research did you do? Where you concerned about people not embracing a film set in this period?
CE: We were definitely concerned and wanted to make sure we did it right. Of course, we relied on the help of a lot of historians and with the help of research. I had a whole team of interns doing research and bringing things to me. I was trying to make sure we did things the right way and sensitively, but you know in a post-Django world [laughs], I sort of felt like it’s going to make the subject matter a lot easier for audiences to accept.
VM: How did you work with an inexperienced young actor like Ashton Sanders, who pulled off a phenomenal performance?
VM: Any distribution prospects?
CE: We have gotten the film out to all the large distributors and we’re getting requests from distributors every day. I’m hoping to figure something out in the next month or so, but we’ll just have to see.
PAFF is celebrating its 22nd anniversary this year, screening a total of 172 films - 37 documentaries, 23 short documentaries, 55 narrative features, and 57 narrative shorts, as well as 11 webseries in the new category of new media - all representing 46 countries.
For more information about the official selections, visit the festival’s website at: http://www.paff.org/paff-2014-
Watch a clip from The Retrieval embedded below: