Mexican border noir "Go For Sisters," the latest emphatically idiosyncratic self-financed original from indie icon John Sayles, is finally hitting theaters in New York and Los Angeles this month, followed by a slow rollout through the rest of the country. (DVDs are available for pre-order on the VHX/Variance website.) A black female buddy road movie starring Lisa Gay Hamilton and Yolonda Ross as two African-American women who could "go for sisters" when they knew each other as teenagers is not exactly a commercial picture. But Sayles has made his peace with that long ago, deciding to tell the stories he wanted to tell, the way he wanted to tell them, discovering talent along the way, from Chris Cooper ("Matewan") to Matthew McConaughey ("Lone Star").
In order to do just that, "Go For Sisters" was filmed in 19 days in two countries with 65 locations, all for under a million dollars. Edward James Olmos and Hector Elizondo also star in yet another Sayles movie that crosses the border and mixes cultures in unexpected ways. While reviews of the film are mixed, Sayles is still high from the response "Go For Sisters" received at the Morelia International Film Festival last month. "The audience laughed in all the right places," he tells me. "So I think maybe there are some in jokes only Mexicans get."
Sayles wrote the complex character of a disgraced police detective for Olmos: "I had met Eddie at a couple of film festivals over the years and had admired his work for a long time, but I hesitated to ask him to be a day player in anything. I wanted something substantial for him," he says. They shared a can-do attitude that Sayles found particularly helpful as they moved from location to location. "Both of us had literally carried film cans...He was a great role model. He totally knows the drill of making a movie in 19 days. He was cool with all of it, all that goes into a 'run and gun' movie and that attitude inspired everyone."
For over a decade, Sayles has written for others to be able to finance his own films as well as the life he and his long time partner and producer Maggie Renzi have created for themselves. They moved to the Philippines for a year to make "Amigo," Sayle's last film, about the Philippine American War, bringing together a combination of the finest Filipino actors and old friends such as Chris Cooper. For a million dollars they were able to make a film that would have cost ten times that if made in America and had a gratifying life experience in the process.
When Sayles wrote and published his historic novel, "A Moment in the Sun" in 2011, he and Renzi turned its promotion into a months-long road trip, scheduling readings at independent bookstores and libraries between visits with friends throughout the country. (Sayles is the first to admit that Renzi organizes his life.) The couple's legion of decades-old friends is extraordinary. This past May they hosted a weekend gathering in New Hampshire (shades of "The Return of the Secaucus Seven") where over one hundred friends showed up to take over a campground that had yet to open for the season. The cast of characters included a dozen family members as well as a diverse mix of location managers, set decorators, musicians and casting directors from various films who have become close friends. Everyone was encouraged to bring their children, many of whom came even though they would hardly be considered children anymore.
Salyes and Renzi still maintain their home office in Hoboken, New Jersey as well as a house in Duchess County, New York with sprawling acreage next door to their friend since college, the actor David Strathairn and his wife. The Strathairns are looking to get out of the cold winters, so Sayles and Renzi are looking around too. This year they have it figured out though: they're heading for Austin, Texas for a month to see more family and friends, followed by a Sayles visiting professor stint in Hawaii and several more weeks in Australia. That's the proactive sustainable and creatively fulfilling lifestyle that accompanies Sayles' dogged pursuit his indie film passion.
For now, the next month is focused on publicity for "Go for Sisters," giving interviews in both English and Spanish to help find an audience as well as writing various scripts for hire, he says: "Who knows if they will be made? It's a Zen thing. I may not be the last writer, but I am doing the very best I can on what I am doing when I am doing it."