Writer-director David Lowery has been putting in his 10,000 hours over the past few years, working as an editor and cinematographer on many of his friends' micro-budget projects, as part of the growing multi-tasking barter indie culture. He's helped many of the geographically disparate friends he's met on the festival circuit with their films; he edited with director Shane Carruth the much-talked-about "Upstream Color." SXSW has championed the Texas filmmaker, playing his shorts and features; "Saint Nick" showed promise on a meager $12,000 budget.
Lowery's 2011 Sundance short "Pioneer" was a ramp-up to his exquisitely crafted neo-noir western, "Ain't Them Bodies Saints," which was picked up by IFC Films after its rapturous reception at Sundance, and played during the Cannes Film Festival's Critics Week. IFC releases the film August 16. See my video interview with Lowery below.
What's more -- the filmmaker is attached to direct "The Old Man and the Gun," starring Robert Redford, and has been tapped by Disney to write the remake of "Pete's Dragon."
Lowery's rising star is the result of "Ain't Them Bodies Saints." The title was a misreading of an old American folk song that captured the right "classical, regional" feel, he said at the Sundance premiere press conference.
While it's easy to compare this movie to Terrence Malick's "Badlands," from its magic hour photography to its content, which Lowery considers an antecedent to his two young bank robbers trying to grab happiness as their future disappears, the filmmaker puts his own stamp on this familiar material. He places his actors, led by hapless robber Casey Affleck and his wife Rooney Mara (who has his child while he is serving time in prison) inside a timeless sepia universe of ramshackle houses and wind-blown grasses. (The film was shot around Shreveport, Louisiana.) "I wanted it to feel old in the best sense of the word," he said.
The supporting actors are all spot on as well: Keith Carradine, Ben Foster and Nate Parker. And the country-tinged music (long-time collaborator Daniel Hart) and percussive sound also serve to modernize this film, keeping it simultaneously in the past and present. "It's western and not western" said Hart, who used clapping and folk instruments in what he called "new ways."
Lowery is a precise filmmaker of many gifts who likes to "see moments in between the big moments," he said, "spaces between the silences when people are talking." He likes to leave room for the audience's imagination to get full range.
Lowery has a strong sense of what he wants to accomplish. "The films I love are very precise and every shot means something, every shot should convey something new," he says. "When you cut from a long shot to a close shot you're doing it for a reason, or if you let something stay in long shot for a long take. On the short films I was teaching myself how to express something personal cinematically, how to use the language of film the best I could."