Two of the documentaries being featured at this year’s FilmDayton Festival have already shown themselves to be crowd-pleasers at other festivals around the nation.
“Trash Dance,” produced and directed by Andrew Garrison, recently won the Audience Award for Best Feature at the prestigious SilverDocs film festival in Washington, D.C., and also earned the Audience Award at the Full Frame Documentary Film Festival and Special Jury Recognition at the SXSW Film Festival. It will be shown at 5:15 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 25.
“Tchoupitoulas,” by film makers Bill and Turner Ross, has won awards for Best Documentary at the Dallas Film Festival, the Hot Docs Festival in Toronto and the Ashland Film Festival. It will screen at 7:15 p.m. Sunday, Aug. 26.
After each of the showings, the film makers will be on hand to interact with the audience and respond to questions.
Turner and Bill Ross
The FilmDayton Festival will be a homecoming for the Ross brothers, who grew up in Sidney. Turner, 30, now lives in New Mexico; Bill, who is 32, makes his home in New Orleans.
“Our family had one of the first VHS camcorders, and we were fooling around with that thing when we were 6 and 8,” Turner said. “When you’re a kid, it’s not a professional endeavor — you go see movies and lo and behold, you can go home and make your own! That’s pretty captivating, so as we grew up we found it a great way to capture time and place.”
Turner says when they found an old box of the tapes they’d made as children, the brothers were amazed to see how much they had documented.
They’ve enjoyed collaborating ever since.
“We complement each other,” he explained. “He knows how to do things I don’t. He’s very technical; he’s our editor. I do a lot of our production and creative reconnaissance.
They produced the slice-of-life documentary “45365,” a 2009 film that captured everyday life in Sidney. The title comes from the town’s zip code.
That film won the Grand Jury Award for Best Documentary Feature at the 2009 South by Southwest Film Festival, and the Roger and Chaz Ebert “Truer than Fiction” honor at the 2010 Independent Spirit Awards — putting both Sidney and the Ross brothers on the map.
Documentaries seem to be the best vehicle for their kind of film making, Turner said.
“The work we’re doing is experiential,” Turner explained. “Audiences come to a theater and sit there for 82 minutes, and the sounds and images and content allow them to experience a different environment and let themselves go there. It’s not issue based.”
He said documentaries are also the most intriguing way to capture material.
“Instead of being a sterile film set, it’s something interactive” he explained. “It’s an adventure, and my brother and I are out in the world exploring. “
In the case of “Tchoupitoulas,” the exploration came in the city of New Orleans. The movie title is the name of a street.
“We knew we wanted to explore New Orleans, which has been an ever-present place in our lives. We spent a lot of time there as kids, and as adults we had also lived and worked there,” Turner said. “It’s a colorful and unique place.”
The documentary follows three younger brothers from dusk until dawn through the city at night. Turner says the vantage point of kids is that they still see the world with a bit of detachment, wonderment and fresh eyes.
The Rosses had been filming for seven months before they came across the three boys who would be featured in their film.
“The kids happened very naturally; those kids walked past us one day,” he said.
Turner said film festivals, like Dayton’s, are a good launching pad for documentary films, which are also often shown at museums and art house theaters.
He and his brother, who are currently working on a film shot in South Texas along the Texas/Mexico border, are looking forward to coming back to Ohio.
“We support what they are doing in Dayton. We brought our first film to the FilmDayton Festival and The Neon in 2009,” he says. “We feel very blessed to be able to embark on this journey and be able to continue. We’re so glad we’ve received so much support and that people continue to show up. It’s a lot of fun!”
Independent film maker Andrew Garrison has a connection to the Miami Valley that dates back to his college days.
“Julia Reichert and Jim Klein and five friends bought a house on Superior Avenue to make media together,” said Garrison who grew up in Florida and now makes his home in Austin, Texas. He is an associate professor of film and digital media production at the University of Texas at Austin.
He said those were great years.
“Everything seemed possible. We were a group of very creative people doing important and useful things and there was a great sense of creative possibility,” he said. “The economy was good and you didn’t worry about a job because you could always get a job,”
To earn money, he said, they mowed lawns and worked as waiters.
“The jobs weren’t glamorous, but we chipped in so it was affordable,” said Garrison, who labels that period of time as “hugely formative” for him.” The group was called the Dayton Community Media Workshop.
Later, Garrison gained experience as a cinematographer, producer and director in 12 years at Appalshop, a documentary collective in Eastern Kentucky.
“I want to make films that knock your socks off, that move people. Film works that way,” Garrison said. He added that his goal is to show the dignity of everyday work. He says it’s about seeing people who are often invisible.
“You see that they have complex lives,” he explained. An example is his film “Third Ward TX,” which focuses on a group of artists who become involved in a public row house art project in Houston.
“Trash Dance” documents the lives of 24 Austin garbage collectors who agree to become involved in a dance project with choreographer Allison Orr.
“She works with non-traditional dancers — people who don’t think of themselves as dancers,” Garrison explained. “People like dog walkers or Elvis impersonators. I had read about her.”
The garbage workers, he said, showed up for dance rehearsals on their own time, after their eight-hour shifts.
“It was a sacrifice for them,” he said. Two thousand people showed up in the rain to watch the final dance program.
Garrison gathered 100 hours of film in the year leading up to the performance and another 100 hours of film at the event. It was all edited down to 68 minutes.
“One person on the staff of Kickstarter (the web site that helped fund the film) said the film makes you proud to be a human being,” Garrison said. “They said no one pays attention to sanitation workers except when something goes wrong.”
Those who’ve seen the film, he says, tell him they’ve changed their attitude about those who collect garbage.
“People say they treat them differently; they leave water out for them,” he says.
Garrison, who is now working on a documentary as well as his first fiction film, said he believes the best things and worst things are done by human beings.
“We kinda forget what people can get together and do in a wider way for a bigger community,” he said. “Art is one of the ways that happens, and it’s remarkable to see it. I want to celebrate that part of what we are and celebrate art and creative efforts and how that makes living together so much better. “
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